Salmonella halts production at world’s biggest chocolate factory

Production has been halted in the world’s biggest chocolate plant, run by the Swiss group Barry Callebaut in Wieze, Belgium, after salmonella contaminations were found.

A company spokesman said production had been protectively halted at the factory, which produces liquid chocolate in wholesale batches for 73 clients making confectionery.

The company said 72 of the 73 companies had confirmed they halted deliveries of potentially contaminated chocolate in time to prevent any reaching the shops and were waiting for a response from one client.

There have been no reports so far of any chocolate consumers being exposed to salmonella, which causes salmonellosis, a disease that causes diarrhoea and fever but is dangerous only in the most extreme cases.

“All products manufactured since the test have been blocked,” the spokesman said. “Barry Callebaut is currently contacting all customers who may have received contaminated products. Chocolate production in Wieze remains suspended until further notice.”

Most of the products discovered to be contaminated were still on the site, he said.

However, the firm has contacted all its clients and asked them not to ship any products they have made with chocolate made since 25 June at the Wieze plant, which is in Flanders, north-west of Brussels.

“Food safety is of the utmost importance for Barry Callebaut and this contamination is quite exceptional. We have a well-defined food safety charter and procedures,” the firm said.

Belgium’s food safety agency has been informed and a spokesperson said it had opened an investigation.

Barry Callebaut supplies cocoa and chocolate products to many companies in the food industry, including industry giants such as Hershey, Mondelēz, Nestlé or Unilever. The world number one in the sector, its annual sales amounted to 2.2m tonnes during the 2020-21 financial year.

The Wieze plant does not make chocolates to be sold directly to consumers, and the firm has no reason to believe that any contaminated goods made by clients have made it on to shop shelves.

The scare comes a few weeks after a case where chocolates were contaminated with salmonella in the Ferrero factory that makes Kinder chocolates in Arlon in southern Belgium.

Belgian health authorities said on 17 June that they had given the green light to restart the Ferrero factory for a three-month test period.