Cadbury Schweppes has pleaded guilty to breaching UK food regulations in connection with the salmonella scare that hit the confectionery giant last summer.

Cadbury today (15 June) admitted three breaches of the UK's General Food Regulations at a court in the city of Birmingham.

Birmingham City Council, the local authority responsible for overseeing an investigation into the incident, took the decision to prosecute Cadbury after the company recalled more than 1m chocolate bars last year.

The council accused Cadbury of putting "unsafe" products on the market between 19 January 2006 and 10 March 2006. It also said Cadbury had failed to notify the authorities of the problem between 19 January 2006 and 18 June 2006, and failing to have adequate Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points in place at its manufacturing facility on the outskirts of Birmingham.

"Mistakenly, we did not believe that there was a threat to health and thus any requirement to report the incident to the authorities - we accept that this approach was incorrect," Cadbury said in a statement today (15 June).

According to the Health Protection Agency, 30 people fell ill following consumption of tainted chocolate products.

"Cadbury allowed products that were unsafe for human consumption to reach the market, failed to inform the appropriate authorities after the salmonella contamination was detected and failed to have in place adequate HACCP principles," a spokesperson for Birmingham City Council told just-food. The spokesperson added that the local authority was "satisfied" with Cadbury's decision to plead guilty on all three counts.

Cadbury will be sentenced for the offences at Birmingham Crown Court on 13 July.

Although the confectioner admitted culpability in relation to the salmonella scare, the group was keen to highlight its commitment to quality and food safety.

"Quality has always been at the heart of our business, but the process we followed in the UK in this instance was unacceptable. We have apologised for this and do so again today," the company said.

A spokesperson for the group added that since the salmonella scare came to light Cadbury has invested heavily in putting in place new quality control systems, pumping GBP20m (US$39.4m) into food safety procedures in the UK. 

Separately, Herefordshire Council has today brought fresh environmental health charges relating to the incident against Cadbury. These include not keeping a drainage pipe and roof vents in good repair, not permitting adequate cleaning of the premises, inadequate drainage facilities, and not carrying out proper cleaning of the conveyors or storage silos.

Each of the six offences carries a maximum penalty of an unlimited fine and/or two years' imprisonment.

Responding to the fresh allegations, Cadbury said: "We will be examining these and responding at the appropriate time." The company told just-food that it was "inappropriate" to comment further on these fresh accusations as they are part of an ongoing legal process.