Cadbury Schweppes has come under renewed criticism following a regulatory finding that it did not adhere to EU safety measures at its Herefordshire plant, where salmonella was discovered earlier this year.
Cadbury's failure to follow the rules on implementing HACCP serves as a warning to other processors who may also have been tardy in making sure the hygiene system is in place at all their plants.
According to a UK regulatory report, the company failed to correctly implement EU-wide guidelines laid down by international food safety codes, known as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) analysis.
New EU hygiene directives came into force at the start of this year, embodying HACCP principles in the bloc's law.
Cadbury claims it did not disclose to officials that its products could be contaminated with the Salmonella montevideo strain as only 'minute' traces of the bacteria were found and the company deemed the risk too low.
But the Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF) released a damning report yesterday in which it stated that: "The presence of salmonella in ready-to-eat foods such as chocolate is unacceptable at any level."
The ACMSF continued: "Cadbury's risk assessment does not address the risk of Salmonella in chocolate in a way which the ACMSF would regard as a modern approach to risk assessment."
The findings of the report, published by the UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA), concluded that Cadbury had used methods of product testing that were likely to underestimate the presence of the bacteria.A negative result from the tests would not necessarily mean that the product was uncontaminated.
"Based on the information provided, Cadbury appears to have used methods for product testing which the committee considered would underestimate the level and likelihood of salmonella contamination," the advisory committee stated in its report. "Sample heterogeneity including clumping of bacteria will influence the MPN (most probable number) estimate and therefore the approach cannot be relied upon in foods such as chocolate."
Last month, Cadbury admitted that it had found traces of te Salmonella montevideo strain in its products. Seven of its most popular brands were subsequently recalled by the company after the FSA discovered the problem.
An outbreak of the salmonella strain had alerted health watchdogs to the company's contamination.
The recent outbreak is not the first to hit the Cadbury Herefordshire factory.
According to the FSA, the same montevideo strain of Salmonella was found in Cadbury products manufactured at the site four years ago. The company have stressed that those products were destroyed after detection.
HACCP is a science based and systematic method of identifying specific hazards and measures for their control to ensure the safety of food. HACCP is a tool to assess hazards and establish control systems that focus on prevention rather than relying mainly on end-product testing.
Food safety officials at Birmingham City Council - where the company operate another factory - are currently testing many other Cadbury's products amid fears that the current contamination could have spread.
So far however no products, other than the original seven, have been recalled.
JP Morgan Cazenove, the investment broker for Cadbury, estimates the cost of the product withdrawals at £5m and another £20m in sales due to lack of consumer confidence in the brand. The company also faces possible regulatory action for allegedly not disclosing the information.