Cadbury is insisting there’s no link between a recent food poisoning outbreak and the mass contamination of its chocolate with the same strain of the salmonella bug.
But the government’s Health Protection Agency (HPA) would not rule out a link between last week’s recall of more than 1 million chocolate bars and a quadrupling of cases of the rare montevideo salmonella strain over the last four months.
Seven of Cadbury’s most popular bars have been recalled and the contamination has been traced to a leaking pipe at Cadbury’s Marlbrook plant, near Leominster in Herefordshire. Cadbury discovered the contamination five months ago but failed to report it then to the food watchdog, the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
Rise in cases
The HPA said there had been 45 cases of salmonella montevideo over the last four months, compared with just 12 over the same period last year, including a significant rise among children.
An HPA spokeswoman said there was no evidence this was linked to the Cadbury contamination but added: ‘If the number of cases reported to us does decline it will be stronger evidence of a link with confectionery products.’
Cadbury has also come in for criticism from the FSA over its failure to report the finding of salmonella sooner.
Problem over several weeks
An FSA spokesman said: ‘We were told on Monday [June 19] that there was a problem occurring in January and that problem has gone on for a number of weeks before being corrected. We would have expected them to tell us.
‘As far as ready-to-eat foods such as chocolate bars [are concerned], salmonella contamination is not acceptable and that is why we would have expected to be told in January.’
Cadbury’s European President, Matthew Shattock, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the levels found were well below those that would normally trigger a safety alert. Of 7,000 samples, 14 were found to have minute traces. The highest level was one-thirtieth of the normal level for an alert.
‘Safe to eat’
Since then, testing had been stepped up and in a further 17,000 samples no salmonella had been found.
He added: ‘Our products are perfectly safe to eat and we have no evidence that anyone has been ill from eating them.’
Cadbury has recalled 250g Dairy Milk Turkish, Dairy Milk Caramel and Dairy Milk Mint bars, eight chunk Dairy Milk bars, 1kg Dairy Milk bars, 10p Freddo bars, and 105g Dairy Milk Buttons Easter Eggs.
Concerned customers can call Cadbury’s helpline on 0800 818181. Uneaten products should be returned to Cadbury Recall, Freepost MID20061, Birmingham B3O 2QZ.