I'm sure that I wasn't the only person to be distinctly unimpressed when Cadbury CEO Todd Stitzer offered what passed for an apology for the recent outbreak of the potentially deadly pathogen, salmonella montevideo. The Health Protection Agency - not prone to rash accusations - says Cadbury's products are the most likely cause of the outbreak of this rare strain. But the best Mr Stitzer could come up with was a limp acknowledgement that the company was sorry for having "caused concern". 

An understatement or what ? Unlike Sudan 1, where you could argue that only prolonged repeat exposure would affect people's health, there is no safe level for salmonella montevideo in a product, such as chocolate, which is not cooked before it is consumed. Yet far from shouldering the responsibility, ­Cadbury sounded more worried about the £20m product recalls had cost, and how it might regain public confidence, than making amends.

So much for HACCP and due diligence. The essence of this industrial food hygiene approach is that companies should identify potential hazards in their food chain and put checks in place to prevent them. Cadbury knew that it had already had a problem with the same bacterium in its Marlbrook factory in 2002. Surely this should have been enough to trigger a series of HACCP measures to prevent this ever happening again? It's a pretty poor show for a major food corporation that should have a cutting-edge food safety team. 

Ineptitude is one thing, inaction is another. Cadbury's conduct is all the more reprehensible because, in this latest incident, the company took five months to notify the authorities that contamination could have occurred, not the sort of pre-emptive reaction you expect from a responsible food and drink manufacturer. As the Lib Dem shadow Defra secretary, Chris Huhne MP, put it: "This looks like a corporate cover-up when what was needed was an honest owning up."

Now some unfortunate people who believe they have been affected by Cadbury's products are contemplating costly legal action against the company. Why should they have to? Companies are obliged to inform the authorities if a product they have manufactured does not comply with food safety requirements. Unless the powers that be take action against Cadbury, it makes a mockery of the whole HACCP system.