The Health Ministry is considering revoking the manufacturing license of Unilever Israel over its handling of the recent outbreak of salmonella contamination in several of its breakfast cereal brands.
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"Unilever failed to act responsibly," Health Minister Yaakov Litzman told a radio interviewer on Friday. "We take the fact that it lied to the public and the Health Ministry very seriously."
Litzman added that a ministerial team was investigating the affair, which, he said, "posed a real danger to public safety."
Unilever informed the ministry on Thursday that a consignment of 240 units of potentially contaminated boxes had been shipped from the factory to a branch of the Haredi supermarket chain Yesh Hesed in Be'erot Yitzhak.
That, despite the firm's repeated declarations in recent days that no products suspected of contamination had left the factory.
In response to the information about potentially contaminated boxes of cereal reaching a public outlet, the Health Ministry on Thursday created a professional team to investigate the outbreak. The team is headed by Prof. Itamar Grotto, the head of Public Health Services at the ministry.
The ministry said the team will visit the Unilever factory early next week to "look into its operations." In addition, the ministry said that it was "considering using the legal options that we have."
The ministry announced on Friday that no increase in the incidence of salmonella in Israel had been recorded. Nevertheless, it said that it was "continuing to track the incidence of salmonella, following the detection of the bacterium by the ministry's central laboratory."
People infected with salmonella often have no symptoms. Others develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps, typically within eight to 72 hours after ingesting the bacterium. Most healthy people recover within a few days without specific treatment, but life-threatening complications can result if the infection spreads beyond the intestines.
Unilever Israel CEO Anat Gabriel apologized to consumers for the salmonella outbreak on Friday.