Cadbury faces prosecution over salmonella, newspaper reports

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Cadbury Food standards agency Cadbury plc Chocolate Cadbury schweppes

UK-based Cadbury Schweppes is set to be prosecuted under
environmental health laws after the company allegedly released
chocolate for sale that was contaminated with salmonella, according
to the Guardian newspaper.

A spokesperson from the Food Standards Agency told today that the regulator was unable to comment about the report due to an "ongoing investigation" of the company.

The court case, if launched, will prove to be more costly to Cadbury than the £30m (€44.5m)

the company estimated it spent in recalling the products.

Cadbury's failure to follow new EU-wide hygiene rules, known as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) analysis, also serves as a warning to other processors who may also have been tardy in making sure the system is in place at all their plants.

The cost does not take into account the loss of consumer confidence in the brand.

On 23 June last year the confectionery giant was forced to remove one million of its products from shelves in the UK after traces of salmonella was discovered in the chocolate.

The contamination was traced to a leaking waste water pipe which had dripped bacteria into the chocolate crumb used to make a variety of chocolate bars.

The Health Protection Agency subsequently found a direct link between a salmonella outbreak affecting 37 people and the Cadbury chocolate.

The company withdrew seven product lines in the UK and two in Ireland after the contamination was revealed to the public.

The lines represent about three per cent of sales in the UK and about half a per cent of the group's total sales.

In the first six months of last year Cadbury has already spent about £13m on the recall.

The company then expected total net costs to be in the range of £30m (€44.5m), of which the company expects to recover £6m from insurers, according to the financial report.

About half of the estimated total cost will be due to the recall, with the rest related to changes at its manufacturing plants and to media spending.

The Guardian, quoting unnamed sources, said Cadbury is now expected to face charges of producing food unfit for human consumption.

Officials are close to finalising a lengthy and complex process of interviewing and evidence-gathering and hope to announce a prosecution under environmental health laws before the end of this month, the paper said, citing sources it said was close to the investigation.

Cadbury sales in the UK market fell by 14 per cent during the first six months of the year, according to the company's financial reports.

The company noted that its share of the UK market fell by 1.1 per cent during the period.

Performance was further affected by the hot weather in the UK market, where where confectionary sales by all manufacturers fell by seven per cent year-on-year, the company said.

In its financial report, the company stated: "We have apologised to our consumers, customers and colleagues for any concerns caused and are implementing changes to our UK manufacturing and quality assurance processes so that this cannot happen again."

The regulator action could also target the company's failure to report to food regulators that its private testing in January last year had found the rare Salmonella strain in its products.

After the FSA made the news public in June, Cadbury withdrew the seven products from the UK market.

The Health Protection Agency said interviews with 15 of the 37 people affected by an outbreak of Salmonella montevideo earlier this year indicated that 13 of them reported eating products made by Cadbury.

The HPA also confirmed that samples taken from Cadbury's factories showed the same Salmonella montevideo was present in January and February.

The dates of the outbreak in the population was from February to June.

The HPA also noted the decrease in the frequency of cases of Salmonella montevideo following the company's recall of a number of its chocolate products.

The HPA reported the company had discovered that waste water from a plant in Herefordshire had dripped down into the milk chocolate crumb, a mix that is blended with other ingredients to make some of the company's chocolate bars.

The pipe was fixed but despite finding the Salmonella pathogen in some of its products, the company failed to make a recall at the time.

Cadbury claims in a press release 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.

The Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF) released a damning report in July in which it stated that: "The presence of salmonella in ready-to-eat foods such as chocolate is unacceptable at any level."

The ACMSF also said that 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'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 ACMSF stated.

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."

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.

Cadbury has since said it would improve cleaning processes at its Herefordshire factory.

Following a meeting with the FSA in July, Cadbury agreed to undertake 'remedial action', which would involve changing cleaning regimes in the plant and stepping up testing for a wider range of products.

In a statement, Cadbury Schweppes said it was "moving to a protocol in which any product evidencing contamination is destroyed."

According to the FSA, Cadbury has pledged to carry out a positive release system whereby products will only be released for consumption if they test negative for the salmonella bacteria.

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