In late July, 2016, Unilever, which makes cereals such as Telma Cornflakes and Delipecan in Israel, confirmed that one of its production lines had been temporarily decommissioned due to contamination.
By the end of July, Unilever went into massive damage control, with large ads headlined, “Telma Cereals are Safe to Eat.” “All Telma products in the stores and in your homes are completely safe to eat.”
I always tell my five daughters, anyone who says trust me is not worthy of your trust.
Same with completely safe.
Turns out Unilever also enlisted it employees in social networks, which was quickly found out. Hundreds of Unilever’s 2,500 employees in Israel posted messages supporting the company in its crisis—though without identifying themselves.
“Our family is also eating cornflakes without fear. We love you, Unilever and Telma,” ran a typical post.
Sensing which way the social media wind was blowing (slowly sensing) Univeler finally released which batches of cereal were thought to be contaminated on Aug. 2, 2016.
Yet on Aug. 6, 2016, an increasingly skeptical Israeli press reported that Unilever was claiming that the reason why contaminants had been found in its “Telma” cornflakes is that a warehouse worker took the bar-code off of one of a batch of uncontaminated cereal, and put it on a contaminated batch, sticking it on top of the code marking it as contaminated and not to be sold.
Thus, the company claims, a salmonella-infected batch of cereal got through quality control at the factory and was shipped off to retail outlets in the Petah Tikva area.
Unilever representatives said they have evidence of the fact that a bar-code was taken off of a uncontaminated batch, adding that they are considering involving the police.
On Aug. 7, the Health Ministry suspended a manufacturing license given to multinational corporation Unilever, after cornflakes tainted with salmonella managed to reach Israeli consumers.
The ministry said in a statement that it had carried out an inspection of the Arad plant, with the full cooperation of the company, and found Unilever to have been negligent, but not malicious, in running the factory in southern Israel.
The ministry said in a statement that its investigation was ongoing and the source of the bacterial outbreak has not been located.
And the Ministry is considering legal action.
By this morning, “Cornflakes Scandal,” as it has been dubbed, had sparked an investigation of other bacterial contamination among Israeli food manufacturers. A study by business daily Calcalist shows there were 110 incidents of contamination of one type or another among Israeli food manufacturers over the past three years. Nearly all the contamination incidents were contained, with the products kept off supermarket shelves.
With that, at least half the incidents went unreported, with the companies failing to inform the public of the contamination. Currently, there is no law requiring companies to report such incidents, although in the wake of the cornflakes scandal, MK Itzik Shmueli (Zionist Camp) said that he intended to pass legislation that would penalize companies that fail to inform the public in cases of health issues, even before the product reaches supermarket shelves.
Watching a company squirm and regulators attempt to explain past laziness is not comfortable for anyone.
Public health is paramount to a food company’s social contract to operate and profit.
If current business types can’t understand this after at least 25 years of high profile food safety scandals – and that’s just the microbiological ones – maybe shareholders will get in some folks who do understand.
And to whoever is trolling me about the greatness of Unilever Israel, save your bandwidth.