Israel’s government has suspended production at a Strauss Group confectionery factory under the spotlight after a nationwide recall of Elite-branded products.

Publicly-listed Strauss Group had already shut the plant in Nof Hagalil after a company inspection found traces of salmonella.

In a stock-exchange announcement yesterday (28 April), Strauss Group said Israel’s Ministry of Health had issued an “immediate suspension of the proper production permit” for the factory. The order will last “three months or until the defects are corrected”.

On Monday, Strauss Group announced “routine tests” had shown “a number of samples containing salmonella” on a production line at the plant and in chocolate used as a raw material in the manufacture of finished items.

The discovery led the company to recall all chocolate products made at the factory from 20 February.

Two days later, Strauss Group announced it would only restart production after “all is repaired and products are completely safe for consumption”.

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It added lab results “indicate an initial suspicion” of salmonella in two out of 270 samples of products that had been distributed to retailers and which were part of Monday’s recall.

The results led Strauss Group on Wednesday to expand the recall to all confectionery products made at the factory, including cakes, cereal bars and chewing gum.

At least three people have been recently hospitalised with suspected salmonella poisoning. None of the cases have been confirmed to be linked to the consumption of Strauss Group products, The Times of Israel reported yesterday.

In a statement, the company said its management “apologises to the Israeli public, customers, and retailers for the serious malfunction”.

Eyal Dror, the CEO of Strauss Group’s business in Israel, added: “We will not take any risk regarding public health and due to the great confusion created among consumers, we decided this morning, in cooperation and coordination with the Food Authority in the Ministry of Health to increase the cautionary measures already taken and expand product recall despite the fact that there is no evidence of Salmonella in these products. We are being extra cautious and will bear all the associated costs.”

Dror was quoted by The Times of Israel yesterday as suggesting recent renovation work at the factory might be a factor in the contamination at the site.

“In the weeks before the first discovery, the factory underwent renovations that did not go according to procedures and maybe it’s a risk that had an effect,” Dror was quoted as saying. “There were a few days that pigeons were found in the factory. It was not supposed to happen.”

In a statement on Tuesday, Israel’s Ministry of Health said it received “initial findings” from Strauss Group on 19 April of “traces of salmonella in the manufacturing area but not in food products sampled in the factory that had not been shipped yet”.

On 21 April, the Ministry said it received “non-final findings indicative of salmonella contamination in the raw material”. It added: “These findings were the result of a rapid test rather than a full laboratory test that takes about five days. Therefore, the manufacturer was not required to issue a recall.”

By last Sunday (24 April), Strauss Group sent final test results to the Ministry that were “indicative of salmonella contamination in the manufacturing area and in the raw material”.

The Ministry added: “Following the reception of final test results from both the raw materials and the manufacturing area, the manufacturer has issued a voluntary recall in coordination with the Food Service in the Ministry of Health for all chocolate products manufactured since early February.”

In the US yesterday, the country’s Food and Drug Administration said Strauss Group was recalling Elite-branded products that had been distributed at kosher stores in the country, as well as online via retailers including Amazon.