Now that it appears that Ferrero had already discovered a salmonella contamination in its chocolate factory in Arlon on 15 December, the manufacturer of Kinder Surprise has to endure a storm of criticism. At least 105 – mainly young – consumers became ill.
The outbreak of salmonella infections that was linked to the consumption of Kinder chocolate products earlier this week, can indeed be attributed to a problem in the Ferrero factory in Arlon. However, it has now become apparent that the manufacturer discovered salmonella in a defective filter at two raw material reservoirs as early as last December.
According to the manufacturer, it immediately took the necessary measures – the filter was replaced and the five days’ production was destroyed – but did not inform the Belgian federal food safety agency FAVV of the incident. This is not required as long as contaminated products have not left the company, but Ferrero is now heavily blamed for this misjudgement: in the meantime at least 105 infections in Europe are attributed to eating contaminated chocolate.
“Not handled well”
Governments and consumer organisations also blame Ferrero for a lack of communication. The contaminations were first discovered by the British food safety authorities, on 7 January already, but the company remained silent and only this week came up with a list of products that were recalled – a small list that was expanded a little later. Questions from journalists remained unanswered and a statement was only issued on Thursday.
Belgian consumer organisation Test-Aankoop/Test-Achats states that Ferrero did not react decisively enough: “It seems that Ferrero wanted to keep the matter quiet as much as possible: on the one hand by a too modest recall, on the other hand by not reporting the problem to the FAVV, nor making it public”, the organisation explains in a press release.
Belgian Secretary of State for Consumer Protection Eva De Bleeker was also critical: “I expect food companies to know the rules and to know what they should do and communicate in case of such calamities. I cannot shake off the impression that this was not handled well here. A clear communication from the start could have avoided a lot of confusion”, she said in Belgian business newspaper De Tijd.
“Production is now safe”
The manufacturer now defends itself: “We have followed all procedures. Our protocols have been externally validated and certified. We continue to investigate why people have become ill”, spokeswoman Laurence Evrard said, assuring that the production is now safe. “Since we discovered the problem, we have increased the number of checks. We check more than officially required. Since January we have already carried out 2,000 checks. We do not find any salmonella in our factory or in our products.”
How the contamination could have happened, will have to be proven by further investigation. In any case it is clear that Ferrero not only suffers a lot of financial damage by this incident – the massive recall cost a lot of money and the timing, just before Easter, is very unfortunate – but also image damage, due to late and poor crisis communication.