Tainted Tahini Leads to Massive Product Recall in Israel

Health Ministry suspends Prince Tahini's production license after salmonella bacteria found in its packaged sesame spread. One of its clients claims Prince knew of contamination for over two weeks before notifying them.

Ofer Vaknin

The salmonella scare that began this week with cornflakes has intensified after salmonella bacteria were also found in humus and tehina produced by Prince Tehina. Some products were sent to shops and food chains 10 days ago.

The Health Ministry on Thursday halted the movement of all products from Prince Tehina and suspended the company’s production license. It ordered products in the plant that were suspected of contamination to be destroyed, officials told a news conference. The ministry is also considering filing a lawsuit against Prince Tehina.

Shamir Salads, one of the manufacturers that uses Prince Tehina products, said Thursday it had recalled all its dips and condiments from food outlets. However, tainted products have probably been sold to customers in the past 10 days.

Strauss and Sabra Salads, also major producers of several lines of spreads and dips from Prince’s humus and tehina, have sent 120 tons of products back to the manufacturer after discovering contamination in them 10 days ago.

The Health Ministry accused Prince Tehina, which claims to be the largest tehina manufacturer in the Middle East, of not notifying the ministry of the contamination. The ministry said it learned of the contamination from an external laboratory on Sunday.

On Monday ministry inspectors visited the Prince Tehina plant in the Galilee Arab village of Eilabun, and were told that everyone who received tainted products had been notified.

However, the ministry said Shamir Salads had not been told and insisted Prince Tehina do so.

Ami Guy and Yaakov Ginsburg, Shamir Salads’ joint CEO’s and owners, said Thursday they received an email from Prince Tehina about the tainted tahina only on Wednesday evening.

“Prince Tehina weren’t honest with us, although they knew of the problem already 17 days ago. We believe they only notified us because the Health Ministry forced them to do so,” one of them told reporters.

The Shamir CEOs said they would revoke their contract with Prince Tehina and threatened to sue the manufacturer, which they said was responsible for the fiasco.

Asked why they didn’t discover the problem earlier, as Strauss had, Guy and Ginsburg said the raw material came with laboratory documents showing the product had been cleared for use. They said that from now on they would test the product in their plant as well.

Strauss found Salmonella bacteria in raw material manufactured by Prince Tehina on July 25, after conducting a test. Strauss uses Prince Tehina products to make several of its dips and condiments. Following the test, Prince Tehina recalled 120 tons of products from Strauss and Sabra Salads and quarantined them.

Prince Tehina CEO Afif Tannus yesterday took responsibility for the incident. “It’s a first malfunction for us. We’re inexperienced is these things,” he said at a news conference. “I apologize personally and take responsibility for all the damage. As soon as we heard of a possibility that a tainted product could reach the customers, we decided to stop all manufacturing and disinfected all the production lines. Today we received test results that everything was in order. But until we get the Health Ministry’s approval we won’t continue [to manufacture].”

Shamir Salads started recalling its products from the shops as soon as it heard from Prince Tehina on Wednesday evening that they may be tainted. They said that products that hadn’t been marketed and were still in the plant will be destroyed.

The Victory food chain said they had taken all Shamir Salads products off the shelves, regardless of their production date. These consist of all humus products dated 1/9/2016 to 18/9/2016, all tehina products dated 16/9/2016 to 3/10/2016; all eggplant and tehina products dated 1/9/2016 to 18/9/2016.

The company also asked consumers not to use the following products, according to their expiry dates:

All humus, tehina and eggplant products belonging to the brands Supersol, Yesh, Shamir, Asli, Hamutag, Delicatessen, Salatey Habayit, Yohannanof and Picnic dated 1/9/2016 to 18/9/2016; 16/9/2016 to 3/10/2016 and 1/9/2016 to 18/9/2016. Supersol also took these products off the shelves. The chain issued a statement asking customers not to buy Shamir Salads and Supersol humus and tehina-based products, and to return them (if they bought them) for a full refund. These products include all Supersol/Yesh humus brands dated 1/9/2016 to 18/9/2016; all Supersol/Yesh tehina dated 16/9/2016 to 3/10/2016; and

Supersol/Yesh eggplant in tehina spreads dated 1/9/2016 to 18/9/2016.

Supersol said the rest of the spreads made by Shamir Salads that it sells are safe to consume.