Cadbury Schweppes, the world's largest confectionery company, has recalled seven of its branded products in the UK and Ireland due to possible contamination with salmonella, the company announced on Friday (23 June). However, the confectioner has come under fire from the UK Food Standards Authority because it knew about the potential problem in January but failed to notify the government agency until last week.

Cadbury has recalled about one million chocolate bars - including varieties of the best selling Dairy Milk brand - after traces of the Montevideo strain of salmonella were found in test samples. In January, a batch of chocolate was contaminated with wastewater from a leaking pipe at its factory in Marlbrook, UK, the company revealed.

In the release detailing the recall Cadbury played down the incident, describing it as a "purely precautionary measure, as some of these products may contain minute traces of salmonella."

"We have been making chocolate for over a hundred years and quality has always come first," said Simon Baldry, Cadbury MD. "We have taken this precautionary step because our customers are our highest priority."

However, the FSA told just-food today, the company failed to notify the agency until last week - despite the fact that it had been aware of the problem since January.

"We were notified to the problem on Monday, given details Tuesday and had a meeting with them Wednesday. We told them at that point to recall the product," Justin Everard explained.

"From the point that they alerted us to the possible contamination, timely action was taken. Having said that, Cadbury had known about the problem since January," Everard continued - meaning that products that were possibly contaminated have been on sale to the public for an unclear period of time.

Although Cadbury is playing down any risk to public health associated with the salmonella contamination, the FSA said that it was a real threat.

"Salmonella contamination is a serious issue and can make people ill," Everard warned. "Having salmonella in your products certainly poses a risk. Cadbury was aware of that risk in January, but failed to notify the proper authorities until Monday."

The FSA is investigating why Cadbury delayed notifying it of the problem.

The UK's Health Protection Agency has said that it is too early to say whether there is a link between Cadbury's products and an outbreak of 45 cases of the Montevideo strain of salmonella over the last four months. 

Cadbury was unavailable for further comment at time of press.