Greenyard is to pay half a million euros to settle allegations of communication failures about the Listeria contamination at its frozen vegetable factory in Hungary in 2018.

The related outbreak included 54 cases of listeriosis in Australia, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, and the United Kingdom with 10 deaths from 2015 to 2018. Researchers in England found the outbreak strain remained in the UK frozen vegetable food chain until April 2019 and caused a case of Listeria meningitis in England in February this past year.

Greenyard has concluded a settlement of €500,000 ($605,000) without acknowledgment of guilt with the Financial Services and Markets Authority (FSMA) in Belgium. FSMA can accept a settlement if the party being investigated has collaborated with the inquiry.

Watchdog findings
The settlement relates to the late disclosure of information and dissemination by Greenyard of false and misleading details regarding the Listeria contamination, according to the FSMA.

The FSMA investigated Greenyard’s communication after the Hungarian Food Chain Safety Office (NEBIH) took action in June 2018 related to the Listeria incident.

In late June 2018, NEBIH banned marketing of certain frozen products from the plant between Aug. 13, 2016, and June 20, 2018, and ordered a product withdrawal and recall. Implicated frozen products were distributed to more than 110 countries.

Behind this decision was analyzes by the European Union Reference Laboratory for Listeria, which established a link between the strain of Listeria that infected people and that discovered in frozen foods produced and marketed by Greenyard Frozen Hungary.

These results were revealed in an anonymized report published in early July by European authorities and Greenyard was made aware of the findings on the same day as publication.

However, the FSMA investigation found Greenyard did not disclose this information for another 10 days. The authority said this means the company did not comply with its obligation to publish such information as soon as possible.

‘A closed chapter’
In a news release one day after getting the report, Greenyard presented in a “false and misleading manner” a number of elements on the seriousness of the situation, according to the FSMA.

The agency said the firm disseminated information which gave, or was likely to give, false or misleading indications as to the share price. The FSMA added Greenyard knew or should have known this information was false and misleading and by doing this the firm broke the rules.

Greenyard conducted an investigation with Hungarian and European food safety authorities and independent experts. This was completed and production at the Hungarian factory was restarted in September 2018. In June 2019, the site was sold to Roger & Roger, a producer of potato and corn snacks.

Greenyard officials said the settlement allows the company to close the chapter on the incident and focus on its core business, following a transformation of the firm.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here)