Cadbury salmonella scare highlights a wider problem

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food standards agency Food safety Cadbury

Cadbury salmonella scare highlights a wider problem
The controversy surrounding Cadbury’s salmonella scare highlights a wider confusion amongst manufacturers over their obligations to inform the...

The controversy surrounding Cadbury’s salmonella scare highlights a wider confusion amongst manufacturers over their obligations to inform the authorities of potential food safety problems, experts have claimed.

Under article 19 (3) of the EU General Food Law, which came into force last year, food business operators are obliged to immediately inform the competent authorities if they have reason to believe that their products may be injurious to health.

However, the onus is on the manufacturer to make the judgment call, and if Cadbury is required to defend its actions in court, there is no legal precedent to indicate how its interpretation of article 19 will be regarded, says independent food safety consultant Neil Griffiths.

He added: “I personally would tend to take the view of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) on this one in that any trace of salmonella in a ready to eat product is a concern, and indeed, the amount of expert opinion that’s going against Cadbury suggests that they may well be prosecuted by the local authority.

“However, article 19 (3) is a bit of a grey area for manufacturers. Cadbury clearly took the view that there was no significant food safety risk when it first discovered salmonella in January and therefore would argue that it was not obliged to inform either the local authority or FSA.”

Neville Craddock, a former head of regulatory affairs at Nestlé and now an independent consultant, said: “The trigger points for article 19 appear to be somewhat subjective, in the absence of any specific legal criteria for chocolate.”

Their comments came as the Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF), which advises the FSA, criticised Cadbury’s approach to risk assessment as outmoded. It said: “Cadbury appears to have used methods for product testing which we considered would underestimate the level and likelihood of salmonella contamination. End-product testing is not a suitable instrument for guaranteeing the safety of the food and a robust HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) [system] needs to be in place.

“Cadbury’s risk assessment assumes that a threshold for infection can be estimated from previous outbreak data on levels of micro-organisms in chocolate. Such a threshold is not the same as the minimum infectious dose for salmonella in chocolate; no minimum infectious dose can be defined and infections may occur in consumers exposed to significantly lower levels than that seen in previous outbreaks.”

It added: “The presence of salmonella in ready-to-eat foods such as chocolate is unacceptable at any level.”

Nick Lowe, food safety team leader at Birmingham City Council, said the council had not yet decided whether to prosecute Cadbury. He added: “Cadbury’s method of analysing and interpreting the lab results was outdated. Chocolate is not homogeneous. You could have salmonella in three bars and none in several thousand. You can’t measure the risk by averaging out the infection across all the bars. If you ate the three bars that had salmonella in, that’s a risk. If Cadbury had told us about this in January, the products would have remained in quarantine.”

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