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Due to Salmonella Contamination, Hummus Scare Spreads in Israel

As if the Jewish people hadn’t suffered enough

Lahav Harkov
August 15, 2016
Michael N. Todaro/Getty Images
View of Easy Avocado Hummus at the Humana Healthy Holiday Cooking Challenge on December 3, 2013 in Lynbrook, New York. Michael N. Todaro/Getty Images
Michael N. Todaro/Getty Images
View of Easy Avocado Hummus at the Humana Healthy Holiday Cooking Challenge on December 3, 2013 in Lynbrook, New York. Michael N. Todaro/Getty Images

The weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and the Ninth of Av on the Hebrew calendar are traditionally a time of suffering for the Jewish people, a fact that did not escape many Israelis when it was announced last week that literally tons of their dietary staples, hummus and tehina, were contaminated with salmonella.

On Thursday, Israelis woke up to the news that salmonella had been found on the production lines at HaNasich, a major Israeli manufacturer of tahini paste, which is an important ingredient in hummus, tehina, eggplant salad, and more.

Worse, it soon became clear that Shamir, one of Israel’s biggest hummus manufacturers, had not done its own independent testing of the raw ingredients it had acquired, and had thus used the contaminated tahini paste in many of its products. (Shamir manufactures the store-brand hummus sold in many Israeli supermarkets.) Other large companies—Sabra and Achla—announced that they had detected the salmonella in their own testing, and had not used HaNasich tahini paste in their products.

The problem could have been avoided if someone had only bothered to listen to the Israel Defense Forces, which turns out to also be the country’s first line of defense against salmonella. On June 28, the IDF decided not to renew its contract with Shamir—the sole provider of hummus to Israeli army bases—because of questions about its factory’s hygiene. The IDF reported the problems to the Health Ministry, but that apparently was not enough to spur it to warn the general public.

Incidentally, this wasn’t the only recent salmonella scare in Israel. Earlier in the week, Thelma, a local cereal brand whose Wheaties-like boxes feature Israeli NBA player Omri Casspi, had salmonella in its cornflakes.

But hummus? Hummus is another story. Hummus is a staple of the Israeli diet, as these clips from the 2008 Adam Sandler classic—OK, classic may be overstating it—You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, depict perfectly. (Naked Adam Sandler behind warning.)

On Thursday, the panic around Israel was palpable. It was time to start getting ready for Shabbat, a day on which many Israelis begin their meal with “salatim”—small salads like hummus, tehina, eggplant, and others—and people didn’t know what to do without their standard starters.

Major #hummus manufacturer recalls #techina due 2 Salmonella-forget #Iran bomb this is existential threat 2 #Israel!

— Sara Yael Hirschhorn (@SaraHirschhorn1) August 11, 2016

Supermarkets began emptying their shelves. Consumers began flocking to hummus restaurants to get their fresh products, and not the regular store-bought stuff. Jews in the U.K. and South Africa, where Shamir salads are also available, checked their refrigerators to make sure they didn’t have the bad batches.

Politicians, like Zionist Union Knesset member Shelly Yacimovich, began posting photos of their homemade hummus (as did I).

חומוס שהכנתי רגע לפני המשבר + על הקשר בין הקיצוץ הצפוי הלילה בתקציב ובין הסלמונלה

— שלי יחימוביץ (@Syechimovich) August 11, 2016

הפיתרון לתבהלת הסלמונלה? להכין חומוס ביתי The solution to the hummus salmonella scare: DIY

— Lahav Harkov (@LahavHarkov) August 12, 2016

Many connected the loss of hummus to the many tragedies that had befallen the Jewish people throughout the years on Tisha B’Av, the fast day that fell on Sunday, foremost of which was the destruction of both Holy Temples in Jerusalem.

Israeli-American comedian Benji Lovitt, who often goes on riffs about his love of hummus, wondered: “Does anyone else think it’s no coincidence that this happened in such close proximity to Tisha B’Av? Potato…potahto…2nd Temple…salatim.”

Or as Likud Knesset member Yehuda Glick, known for his activism for Jewish prayer rights on the Temple Mount, tweeted: “At this rate of salmonellas, it looks like we’re going to have to fast on Sunday.”

בקצב הזה של הסלמונלות נראה שיום ראשון פשוט נצום

— yehudah glick (@YehudahGlick) August 12, 2016

That said, others might consider having to dump contaminated hummus to be no great loss. After all, there’s always the argument, as a strange Israeli song from the ’90s claims, that hummus makes you stupid:

On a more serious note, the contaminated salads are hummus, tehina and eggplant in tehina under the brand names Shamir, Shufersal, Yesh, Asli, Hamutag, Delicatessen, Salatei Habayit, Yohananof and Picnic. Hummus with expiration dates of September 1-18, tehina with expiration dates September 6-October 3, and eggplant in tehina with expiration dates September 1-18 should not be eaten. Anyone who owns such products should call Shamir’s customer service at +972-3-906-7744.

Lahav Harkov is the diplomatic correspondent for The Jerusalem Post. She tweets at @LahavHarkov.