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How does chocolate become a reason for a disease outbreak?

by Coffee Table Science

A major  Salmonella Typhimurium breakout was prevented by recalling a huge order of chocolates before Easter in 2022. The United Kingdom reported cases of typhoid fever and other symptoms of Salmonella infection.

Image Credit- Wikimedia Commons

What led to cancelling of orders?

Large-scale production in factories is not an easy job to handle, slight ignorance can be quite dangerous, one such event took place in the UK. Critical ingredients of Kinder chocolate eggs were infected by Salmonella Typhimurium in a chocolate factory in Belgium. The chocolate orders sent out for distribution were traced in time, and recalled and thousands of new cases were prevented. 

455 Salmonella Typhimurium infections were found in 17 countries. It was first brought to light by the UK authorities on an alert platform EpiPulse, hosted by the European Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) on the 17th of February 2022.

18 children were found to be infected since January, seven of them had to be admitted to hospitals while the rest were showing other symptoms.

What is Salmonella Typhimurium?

The full name of this rod-headed, anaerobic bacteria is Salmonella enterica Serovar Typhimurium. This bacteria causes an intestinal infection which can leak into the bloodstream causing typhoid fever. Salmonella infections are generally caused by food infected with S. enterica. Food containing raw eggs as an ingredient is either pasteurized or radiated to prevent the infection.

Image Credit- Pixabay

What was the impact of this contamination?

After the UK raised the concern, similar cases were reported in five other countries by 18th March. Communication with affected countries by ECDC confirmed the origin of the infection to be a Belgian factory.

Microbiological evidence helped to trace the source of the outbreak. The products were tested and around 81  samples were found to be positive for  Salmonella. 

The factory was closed with immediate effect and all the products produced by the factory were recalled from all corners of the globe. The hotspot for this outbreak was the tank of anhydrous milk fat imported from Italy, but the Italy samples were negative. The Ferrero factory went through several rounds of cleaning and disinfection. The factory reopened on 17th June 2022 for three months with conditions, its permanent licence for production was reissued on 17th September 2022.

86 per cent of the infected individuals were children under 10 and about 61 percent were women. Dr Johanna Takihen, Food and Waterborne Diseases Expert at ECDC say they are thankful for the immediate responses.

The article was published by Food Standards Agency.

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1 comment

The Science and Artistry of Plant-Based Chocolate Making – Coffee Table Science October 30, 2023 - 1:26 pm

[…] Chocolate comes from cacao tree fruits called pods, each containing around 40 cacao beans. These beans are dried and roasted to become cocoa beans. Modern chocolate production usually involves large-scale refinement, but some artisanal chocolatiers still make chocolate by hand, using pure ingredients. […]


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