Belgium: Chocolate Factory Reopens After Salmonella Contamination
One of the world’s largest chocolate factories in Belgium has reopened after temporarily closing
due to finding Salmonella traces in one lot. The plant, who claims to be the largest chocolate
factory in the world, does not ship products directly to consumers or retailers; rather they are
responsible for supplying chocolate to major household name chocolate companies, including
Hershey, Nestle, and Unilever. When the presence of Salmonella was detected in one of the
batches, production was immediately halted and all clientele that received recent batches were
promptly notified, preventing any consumption of the contaminated chocolate.
The source of the Salmonella contamination was found to be lecithin, an emulsifying agent
which aids in the smooth texture and flow of the chocolate when in liquid form. An internal
investigation, also verified by an external investigation, discovered the soy lecithin responsible
for the Salmonella contamination was from a Hungarian delivery. Belgium’s Food Safety
Agency (FAVV) promptly notified the Hungarian government of the Salmonella contamination
and has also assured the public that none of the contaminated products entered the Belgium food
The plant subsequently closed for six weeks while thoroughly cleaning the Salmonella
contamination. Monday, it began production again on a much smaller scale. According to the
Belgian-Swiss chocolate manufacturer and cocoa processor, Barry Callebaut, “three of the total
24 production lines have proceeded with manufacturing with one successful delivery”. The
company hopes to restore production to full capacity in the weeks to come, while remaining
cautious and continuing rigorous testing all inventory and machinery.
Interestingly enough, there was a previous Salmonella outbreak in Hershey chocolate due to soy
lecithin back in 2006. The outbreak caused Hershey to issue a recall on 25 products and
temporarily halt production in their Smiths Falls plant. Though Salmonella is not conventionally
thought to be found in fats, recent studies have found that high moisture levels in fats can
increase the likelihood of Salmonella growth.
Lecithin is found naturally in many foods and animals and is defined as any group
yellowish-brown fatty substances. Produced commercially, lecithin is a mixture of phospholipids
in water and is typically derived from egg yolks, soybeans, or sunflower seeds. Soybeans tend to
be the most common cost-effective source for producing lecithin, though there has been a rising
shift to using sunflower seeds for allergy concerns.