Authorities in New Zealand are monitoring a large recall of foods containing imported tahini because of Salmonella.

Officials said consumers should be aware that some products are incorrectly labeled as “Product of Mexico or Israel” when they were actually made in Türkiye.

“Testing has identified the possible presence of Salmonella in the Turkish manufacturers’ line of organic tahini imported by Ceres Enterprises,” said Vincent Arbuckle, New Zealand Food Safety (NZFS) deputy director-general.

“No further product from the Turkish manufacturer will be released for sale while the matter is being investigated. We have informed food safety authorities in Türkiye and will work together with them to identify and manage any further risk.”

Tahini from the Turkish manufacturer was used as an ingredient in a range of hummus and tahini items that have been pulled from shelves in New Zealand because of the possible presence of Salmonella.

There have been no official reports of related illnesses but local media reported people thinking they had become sick after eating the implicated products. Authorities are trying to identify cases of salmonellosis related to the recall. They said whole genome sequencing might be required to confirm any association.

In 2022, an outbreak of Salmonella Kintambo involved three patients who had consumed sesame-based products from Syria. Two people were hospitalized. Testing of tahini and halva products found Salmonella Kintambo, Salmonella Amsterdam, and Salmonella Orion.

Certain high-risk foods, including tahini, require food safety clearance at the border. This means an importer may need to provide an official certificate, or other documentation, or the product may require sampling and testing when it arrives in New Zealand.

Multiple recalls announced

In March 2023, Life Health Foods NZ recalled Lisa’s, Greater!, and Prep Kitchen brands. They were sold in supermarkets and retail outlets throughout New Zealand. Routine manufacturer testing detected Salmonella in products already in the country.

Brelita Foods has recalled Seasons Gourmet and Turkish Kitchen brand products containing tahini. My Food Bag has recalled its own brand and Turkish Kitchen brand products.

Different sizes, batches, and best-before dates of Ceres Organics brand organic hulled tahini and organic unhulled tahini have also been recalled.

Other alerts affect GoodFor brand tahini, Bin Inn retail group, Forty Thieves organic tahini, She Universe, and Little Bird Organics. Authorities have warned other brands and products are likely to be added to the recall list.

As part of the investigation, officials looked at other products imported from the Turkish manufacturer that were not included in an original recall notice.

Wider distribution and previous problems
Some Ceres Organics brand products have also been sent to Hong Kong, according to the country’s Centre for Food Safety (CFS).

A spokesman said: “The CFS received a notification from the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) that the above-mentioned product might have been contaminated by Salmonella. Upon learning of the incident, the CFS immediately contacted local importers for follow-up. A preliminary investigation found that the importer had imported into Hong Kong the affected batch of the product concerned.”

The importer, The Dairy Farm Company, has stopped sales, removed the affected product from shelves, and initiated a recall. 

Germany has issued several recent notifications via the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) about sesame products from Türkiye. Switzerland and France have also posted notices about Salmonella in tahini involving Türkiye in February and March this year.

An ongoing multi-country, multi-year outbreak due to tahini and halva from Syria has affected five countries. In Europe, at least 120 people have been affected since January 2019, with Germany having the most cases. People have been infected by Salmonella Havana, Salmonella Mbandaka, Salmonella Orion, Salmonella Kintambo, Salmonella Senftenberg, and Salmonella Amsterdam.

The United States has reported six Salmonella Mbandaka cases, one in 2020 and five in 2021. Canada had eight confirmed patients: five of Salmonella Mbandaka, two of Salmonella Havana and one of Salmonella Orion from 2019 to 2021.

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