Four days after announcing the recall of twenty-five chocolate products due to salmonella contamination, Hershey's and the Canadian food inspection agency (CFIA) still refuse to reveal the exact source and cause of the contamination.
On 12 November, both the company and the CFIA's investigations were advanced enough to confirm exactly which products were affected and determined that 'an externally sourced ingredient' was believed to be the cause.
Today, the identity of the ingredient and its supplier remains a guarded secret, potentially putting other processors at risk of having contaminated products on the market.
The CFIA confirmed to FoodProductionDaily-USA.com that the ingredient and supplier are known but they are not under law required to publicly reveal the information.
Canadian and US food regulations do not require manufacturers or regulators to reveal the source of contamination, or the supplier, if the ingredient was externally sourced.
A loophole in regulations therefore permits manufacturers to attribute contamination to unidentified ingredients, sourced from undisclosed suppliers, even if contamination occurred after the ingredient had left the control of the supplier.
The agency also refused to confirm whether other manufacturers have been supplied with potentially contaminated ingredients, but said that it was standard practice to investigate and potential spread of contamination.
CFIA spokesperson Marilyn Taylor told FoodProductionDaily-USA.com that the regulator's remit to protect the public stopped at naming specific products and did not extend to individual ingredients or the suppliers used by manufacturers.
Revealing the name remains at the discretion of the manufacturer, she said.
"Other companies should have their own system of testing in place that would give them the answers." she said.
So far no other companies have been implicated or announced related contamination.
Hershey's spokesperson, Stephanie Morritz told FoodProductionDaily-USA.com that the salmonella was picked up during a routine manufacturing quality check at the company's plant in Smiths Falls, Ontario.
She could not confirm whether prior tests were conducted on receipt of the ingredient or the whether test results conducted by the supplier, before Hershey's took possession, tested positive. Hershey's further refused to divulge at what stage of ingredient manufacture, transportation or use the salmonella contamination occurred.
Hershey's confirmed the majority of the affected products that left its plant were already under its control and efforts were being made to recover the remainder.
Hershey's shut down the Smiths Falls plant shut down production and issued a recall of 25 products after a routine inspection inside the plant detected salmonella on 9 November. The CFIA said the plant will remain closed until an investigation has been completed.
The decision to publicly announce the risk followed the discovery that some of the product had probably reached retailers.
The proactive move by Hershey's is in stark contrast to Cadbury's decision in January this year to remain silent after discovering that some of it chocolates in the UK were contaminated with salmonella.
Cadbury's only issued a recall in June after 37 people became sick from its chocolates and the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) confronted the company with the evidence.
The contamination was traced to one of its factories, where a leaking waste water pipe had dripped the pathogen into the chocolate crumb used to make a variety of products.