Cadbury yesterday is to plead guilty to six additional salmonella charges over an outbreak in the Herefordshire factory last year.
The company already pleaded guilty in June at Birmingham Magistrates' Court to three breaches of food and hygiene regulations related to the incident. Cadbury representative Tony Bilsborough told ConfectioneryNews.com today that all nine charges related to the salmonella case will be heard at Birmingham Crown Court on 13 July. Cadbury will issue a press release at this time, he added. The case illustrates the need for companies to follow the EU hygiene rules Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) analysis, which Cadbury did not have in place at the plant at the time of the outbreak. In a previous statement Cadbury apologised for the incident and said it had put in place proceedures to prevent the release of any contaminated products to the public. "Mistakenly, we did not believe that there was a threat to health and thus any requirement to report the incident to the authorities," Cadbury said in a statement in May. "We accept that this approach was incorrect. 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 now says it has spent about £20m since last year on "new and rigorous" quality and safety procedures. In April this year the Birmingham City Council decided to bring the company to court for the incident, alleging the company knew about the contamination but still put the products on the market. Cadbury only recalled the chocolate bars when the UK Food Standards Agency revealed that some individuals had fallen ill after eating them. Last month, the Hereford Council brought charges against Cadbury relating to the same incident and the operations at the company's factory at Marlbrook and the company admitted its guilt. Cadbury is accused of failing to report that private tests revealed the salmonella strain in chocolate in January last year. The company released the products, claiming at the time that the levels present did not pose a danger. The company only recalled millions of chocolate products after the UK Food Standards Agency revealed that 37 people fell sick due to the food-borne disease and tracked it back to Cadbury. The recall cost the company about £20m. The contamination was traced to a leaking waste water pipe at the company's plant in Marlbrook, Herefordshire. The pipe had dripped bacteria into the chocolate crumb used to make a variety of chocolate bars. The company allegedly knew about the problem since February, but fixed it without making a recall or notifying regulators. The company has now admitted charges relating to the state of repair of a drainage pipe and a roof vent, the poor layout of the factory and inadequate drainage and disinfection equipment. The Health Protection Agency later stated that there was a direct link between the people who fell ill and Cadbury chocolate. It confirmed that samples taken from Cadbury's factories showed the same Salmonella montevideo strain was present in January and February. The dates of the outbreak are from February to June. The Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF) released a damning report in July 2006 in which it stated that: "The presence of salmonella in ready-to-eat foods such as chocolate is unacceptable at any level." It also said that Cadbury had failed to recognise and act on this crucial safety issue. "Cadbury's risk assessment does not address the risk of Salmonella in chocolate in a way which the ACMSF would regard as a modern approach to risk assessment," an ACMSF spokesperson said. Following a meeting with the FSA in July, Cadbury agreed to undertake "remedial action", which would involve changing cleaning regimes in the plant and stepping up testing for a wider range of products. In a statement, Cadbury Schweppes said it was "moving to a protocol in which any product evidencing contamination is destroyed".
According to the FSA, Cadbury has pledged to carry out a positive release system whereby products will only be released for consumption if they test negative for the salmonella bacteria.