Behind the headlines: Do chocolate bars contain salmonella?

Contaminated chocolate bars could be source of salmonella outbreak, writes Emma Baines.

What's the story?

A million Cadbury chocolate bars have been taken off the shelves because they might be contaminated with salmonella, the media has reported.

The papers said that Cadbury was forced to recall the chocolate bars after the Health Protection Agency (HPA) detected a strain of salmonella responsible for a recent outbreak in samples from one of Cadbury's factories.

The papers also reported that Cadbury had known about the salmonella contamination at its factory in Herefordshire for four months before the HPA discovered it, but had failed to inform food safety watchdogs.

What happened?

The HPA last week reported that between 1 March and 15 June, 59 people in England and Wales were identified as having a Salmonella montevideo infection.

Molecular testing showed that 31 of these cases had an identical type of Salmonella montevideo infection contracted while in the UK. Three people had been hospitalised with it.

The infection was presenting in younger patients than usual, with the median age of the cases being just two years, compared to 30 years in patients with other types of salmonella.

The HPA also reported that between February and May it had received nine anonymous food samples for testing which were found to contain the outbreak strain of Salmonella montevideo.

Although this did not establish any definite link between the Salmonella montevideo outbreak and the consumption of any particular food, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) was informed that this could be the case.

On 23 June, the FSA issued an alert to local authorities requiring that seven of Cadbury's chocolate products be removed from sale due to possible salmonella contamination.

The products recalled were the Dairy Milk Turkish 250g, Caramel 250g, Mint 250g, eight-chunk 1kg and Button Easter Egg 105g, and the Freddo bar.

What does Cadbury say?

Cadbury issued a statement saying that the products were being recalled purely as a 'precautionary measure' because some of them might contain minute traces of salmonella.

It said that the source of the problem had been found and rectified, and that steps were being taken to ensure these products were no longer for sale. The company declined to comment further.

What do the experts say?

An FSA spokeswoman said that Cadbury had first come forward to inform the agency that there had been a salmonella contamination at one of its plants in Herefordshire on 19 June, even though it had known of the contamination since January.

'Under food hygiene law, having salmonella in a ready-to-eat product, such as chocolate, is not acceptable and it can pose a health risk,' she said.

She added that the FSA would be investigating the matter together with the local authority.

Professor Hugh Pennington, president of the Society for Microbiology, said: 'There have been about twice as many cases this year as in the whole of last year. We can't know for sure that the Cadbury's chocolate is the cause, but the fact that it found the same bug in its chocolate in January means that there is a case to answer.'

He added that the symptoms of Salmonella montevideo were similar to that of more common forms of salmonella.

He said patients with symptoms such as diarrhoea should ensure they drink enough fluids and see their GP if they develop severe symptoms, such as bloody diarrhoea, but that antibiotics were not recommended for the average salmonella case.

INFORMING PATIENTS

- Seven Cadbury chocolate products have been withdrawn because they might be contaminated with salmonella. They are the Dairy Milk Turkish 250g, Caramel 250g, Mint 250g, eight-chunk 1kg and Buttons Easter Egg 105g, and the Freddo bar. Anyone who has one of these should contact Cadbury on 0800 818181.

- Although it is a serious illness, most salmonella goes away of its own accord.

- Patients with symptoms such as diarrhoea and stomach pains should make sure they drink enough fluids.

WHAT THE PAPERS SAID
"Salmonella scare hits Cadbury's" - The Daily Telegraph
"Million chocolate bars withdrawn" - The Independent
"A million 'food bug' chocolate bars taken off shelves" - The Times

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