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Hungary - Greenyard under fire after listeria contamination

On Friday, it was announced that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) had linked the deaths of nine Europeans to the listeria contamination in one of Greenyard’s Hungarian factories. At 12.43 on that day, the trading in Greenyard shares was halted by the financial watchdog, FSMA. This was in anticipation of a press release from the company. At the time of the halted trade, the Greenyard shares reported a loss of 9,5%. By Monday, 16 July, the shares had fallen a further 30%, to €7,92.

The first official report from Greenyard about the listeria contamination and the recall of products was on 4 July. Over the past few days, Greenyard has recalled even more frozen products. In total, the number of recalled products stands at 40. The NVMA expects more products to follow. The EFSA had communicated about the listeria-related deaths on 3 July already. It was, however, the Flemish newspaper, De Tijd, that linked the deaths to Greenyard’s recall campaign. As a reaction to the media attention, Greenyard issued their own statement on Friday.

Greenyard was told about the contamination at their plant by the Hungarian authorities on 29 June. Production in Hungaria was halted, and various products recalled. Greenyard’s Hungarian branch has an annual turnover of €24 million. Greenyard’s total revenue for 2017 was €4,2 billion. According to financial analysts, Sips and Vandenberghe, the shutdown of their Hungarian factory is sure to have a financial impact on Greenyard. When the link between Greenyard and the deaths is confirmed, the impact will be even greater. The company’s reputation will also be damaged.

As a result of the listeria contamination, 47 people fell ill. Nine of these people died. The deaths were in Austria, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. The recalled products were produced between 13 August 2016 and 20 June 2018. This concerns a specific type of listeria which can cause health risks when the frozen vegetables are not prepared in the right way. The group at highest risk are the elderly, pregnant women, children, and people with a compromised immune system.

Greenyard top man, Hein Deprez, debunked the rumours in De Tijd by saying there was no proven causal link between Greenyard and the people who died. “The EFSA is investigating whether there is a link. The recall action is a precaution. We are taking this issue and the public’s health very seriously.” In this matter, Greenyard is supported by experts, academia, and colleagues at the EFSA. The company is also in direct contact with the European and Hungarian Food Safety Authorities.

“Greenyard immediately took all the necessary steps after the listeria contamination was found”, says Nancy Goovaerts of Greenyards Corporate Communications. “When the EFSA announced that the same strain of listeria was found in the sick people, and in our frozen vegetables, we published this message on our website.” It is still difficult for Greenyard to estimate the long-term effects. “Our priority is to ensure food safety and the tests in our factory in Baja. These are needed to be able to safely start production again.”

Greenyard is working with local food safety agencies and retailers in 80 different countries. The products involved have been communicated to them. “We are insured for the recall action and possible damages. Food safety is, however, our number one priority now. We are doing extensive investigations into finding the cause of this outbreak in Hungaria. We would like to emphasise that these products pose no risk if consumers correctly prepare them”, concludes Nancy.

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