Israel's Fresh Food Imports Grind to Halt After Health Ministry Arrests

The delays don’t constitute a health hazard to the public, but could lead to shortages of certain products

Shipping containers at the Ashdod port, September 2016.
Ilan Assayag

About 1,800 containers filled with imported fresh food have been awaiting release at the port in Ashdod for 15 days instead of the usual two days, importers report.

The delay in allowing the meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables into the country has been caused by a disruption in the Health Ministry’s food division, which works with the importers, as a result of a police investigation into suspected corruption in the vitamin import business. The investigation lead to the arrest of Ruth Shimberg, a senior division official, and several engineers.

The delays don’t constitute a health hazard to the public, but could lead to shortages of certain products.

On Sunday, Uriel Lynn, chairman of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, called on the Health Ministry to provide ongoing services to food importers despite the disruptions.

Chambers of Commerce officials stated that the investigation over the corruption suspicions has hurt importers, including causing them to incur storage costs and making it impossible for them to honor their delivery contracts.

Importers are also complaining that requests to renew permits that are set to expire and petitions to import new foods, which were filed 40 days ago, have yet to be processed. Lynn proposed to Health Minister Yaakov Litzman that the existing permits be extended in wake of the delays.

The Health Ministry commented that “the matter is under police investigation and is being handled by the ministry.”