The head of the French company at the centre of an international baby milk scandal denied Friday that it was responsible for the contamination that triggered a recall of formula in over 80 countries, calling it “an accident”.
Lactalis, one of the world’s biggest dairy groups, was forced to recall 12 million packages of powdered baby milk in 83 countries in December and January after being linked to an outbreak of salmonella poisoning in children.
French officials began investigating the company after at least 36 infants fell sick from drinking milk sold under the Picot or Milumel brands. Cases of suspected contamination were also reported among children in Spain and Greece.
The outbreak was traced to a Lactalis factory in Craon, western France.
CEO Emmanuel Besnier told a French parliamentary inquiry that a renovation of the plant in early 2017 “released salmonella which was inside the buildings”.
“It was an accident. Nobody inside the factory was responsible,” he told lawmakers.
Lactalis has come in for heavy criticism after it emerged that the company’s own tests found salmonella on a production line but that it did not report the finding because the bacteria was not found in the milk itself.
The company is facing several lawsuits over the outbreak.
Expatica reports researchers raised fears Thursday that salmonella-tainted milk produced by French dairy giant Lactalis, which sickened dozens of babies, could have infected others over more than a decade.
Lactalis has been engulfed in scandal since December when authorities ordered a massive international recall of the baby milk which made at least 38 babies ill in France and Spain.
The Pasteur research institute said Thursday that the exact same strain of salmonella sickened at least 25 others between 2006 and 2016 — and that the same Lactalis factory in northwest France was the likely origin.
Lactalis has been the target of heavy criticism after it emerged that the company’s own tests found salmonella at the factory in Craon, but it did not sound the alarm because it had not detected the bacteria in the milk itself.
That raised fears that contaminations may have occurred well before last year’s discovery but gone undetected, with critics pointing to an outbreak at the same production site that sickened 146 children in 2005 — before it was bought by Lactalis a year later.
“First we confirmed that the same type of Salmonella agona was behind the two outbreaks, in 2005 and 2017,” Pasteur Institute director Francois-Xavier Weill told AFP.
“So we asked ourselves where the strain could have been during the 12 years in between” those two scares, he said.
“The only possible hypothesis is that it remained at the factory in question.”
Although the institute could not definitively determine whether the sickened babies drank Lactalis milk, “the DNA evidence is very clear, and it points to this factory,” Weill said.
Lactalis CEO Emmanuel Besnier confirmed Thursday that tests between the two outbreaks had found the same salmonella at the factory, though not in the milk.
“We can’t exclude the possibility that some babies drank contaminated milk during this period,” he admitted.
The bacteria was found in a dehydration tower used to reduce milk, which Lactalis now plans to shut down for good, Besnier told newspaper Les Echos.
The company is facing several lawsuits over the outbreak, and police raided the group’s headquarters in Laval, western France, earlier this month.
It recalled 12 million packages of the affected baby milk, under brands including Picot, Milumel and Celia, across 83 countries.
Several retailers later admitted that they had continued to sell the products even after the recall was announced.
Investigators have opened a preliminary inquiry for suspected fraud as well as endangering health by failing to properly execute the recall.
An outbreak of S. Agona linked to the consumption of infant formula has been ongoing in France since August 2017. So far the outbreak has affected 37 children under one year of age in France. Whole genome sequencing (WGS) analysis confirmed that a Spanish case is closely related to the outbreak in France. A probable case has been identified in Greece. The last case was notified on 2 December 2017.
EFSA and ECDC recommend that competent authorities in affected Member States keep sharing information on the epidemiological, microbiological and environmental investigations and issue relevant notifications in the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) and the Early Warning Response System (EWRS).
To prevent infections using infant formulas, both in infants and caregivers, Member States should consider providing advice to the public regarding:
Not to use any of the infant formulas involved in this outbreak;
Hand washing before and after the preparation of the bottle;
Bottles should not be prepared in advance and the contents should be discarded if not consumed within two hours.
What is a rapid outbreak assessment?
In case of multi-country foodborne outbreaks coordination at EU level is important. A Rapid Outbreak Assessment is jointly prepared by EFSA and ECDC in close cooperation with affected countries. The ROA gives an overview of the situation in terms of public health and identifies the contaminated food vehicle that caused the infections. It also includes trace-back and trace-forward investigations to identify the origin of the outbreak and where contaminated products have been distributed. This is crucial to identify the relevant control measures in order to prevent further spread of the outbreak.
An outbreak of Salmonella Agona linked to the consumption of infant formula (powdered milk) has been ongoing in France since August 2017. As of 11 January 2018, the outbreak had affected 39 infants (children <1 year of age): 37 in France, one in Spain confirmed by whole genome sequencing (WGS) and one in Greece, considered to be associated with this event based on the presence of a rare biochemical characteristic of the isolate.
The date of symptom onset for the most recent case was 2 December 2017. Available evidence from epidemiological investigations in humans and traceability investigations in food identified seven different brands of infant formula from a single processing company in France as the vehicles of infection.
After receiving the first notification on 2 December 2017 of an unusual number of S. Agona cases in France, the French authorities carried out investigations at the implicated factory. On 4 December 2017, they notified the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) after confirming that some of the affected products were exported to other countries. Following investigations at the processing company, all products manufactured since 15 February 2017, including products other than infant formula, have been recalled and/or withdrawn, as a precautionary measure. The French competent authorities are verifying that the measures taken by the processing company in response to this event have been sufficient and appropriate. As of 15 January 2018, recalled products had been distributed to 13 European Union (EU) countries (Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Ireland, the Netherlands, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain and the United Kingdom) and to 54 third countries. Most of the batches involved in the investigation have not yet passed their expiry date. However, broad withdrawal and/or recall measures, export bans and a suspension of market distribution of these batches, implemented since the beginning of December 2017 by the French competent authority and processing company A, are likely to significantly reduce the risk of human infection. The possibility remains, however, that new cases may be detected. Third countries, where the recalled products had been distributed, have been notified by RASFF through INFOSAN. ECDC offers WGS services to EU/EEA countries that do not have the capacity for a timely sequencing and analysis as part of this investigation. A multi-country WGS analysis is under way at the Pasteur Institute.
We’re in New Caledonia for Amy to do some French professoring stuff, with the Calgary-Carolina hockey game on in the background on a sports channel from France.
I went for a walk along the ocean this morning, sans Ted, which is the extent of my French.
While I’m surrounded by the beauty of this Pacific island, the Lactalis mess in France continues a downslide into parody (except for the sick kids and their families).
According to Reuters, France welcomed dairy group Lactalis’ pledge to compensate victims of a Salmonella contamination in its baby milk on Sunday, but said a judicial investigation to determine who was responsible would continue.
Lactalis Chief Executive Emmanuel Besnier told the weekly Journal du Dimanche his family company, one of the world’s biggest dairies, would “pay damages to every family which has suffered a prejudice.”
Is prejudice French for barfing?
Salmonella infections can be life-threatening and the families of three dozen children who have fallen sick in France as a result of the contaminated baby milk have announced a raft of lawsuits.
Besnier’s promise came two days after Lactalis widened a product recall to cover all infant formula made at its Craon plan, regardless of the manufacture date, in a bid to contain the fallout from a health scare that risks damaging France’s strategic agribusiness in overseas markets.
“Paying compensation is good, but money cannot buy everything,” government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said in an interview on BFM TV.
The health scare intensified last week after France’s biggest retailers including Carrefour, Auchan and Leclerc admitted products recalled in December had still found their way onto shelves.
“It is the job of the investigation to determine where failings occurred and who is to blame,” Griveaux said, adding that “responsibilities were shared.”
Implementing the global recall will be challenging. Privately owned Lactalis, one of the world’s biggest dairies, exports its baby food products to 83 countries across Europe, Africa and Asia.
The recall involves some 12 million tins of baby milk.
“It’s not easy to evaluate the number of items that need to be returned because we don’t know what’s been consumed already,” Besnier said in a rare newspaper interview published on Sunday.
Friday’s recall was the third in a month and Lactalis has come under fire for its clumsy response. Besnier also told the French weekly that the company had acted as quickly and efficiently as possible and denied slowing the process to curb losses.
Besnier has also been criticized for failing to speak out publicly during the salmonella scare.
While his family are France’s 11th wealthiest, according to a 2017 ranking by Challenges magazine, the dairy tycoon has long shunned the public limelight and schmoozing with politicians.
His workers nickname him the “invisible man.”
“We’re a discreet business. In this region there is a mentality of ‘work first, speak later,” he said. But he acknowledged lessons had been learned during the past few weeks.
Lactalis has become an industry giant, with annual sales of 17 billion euros ($20.73 billion) and 18,900 employees across some 40 countries.
French food safety inspectors failed to detect salmonella contamination at a plant belonging to dairy giant Lactalis, three months before the company carried out a major recall of baby milk, a report said Wednesday.
Internal and external food safety audits are conducted to assess the safety and quality of food including on-farm production, manufacturing practices, sanitation, and hygiene. Some auditors are direct stakeholders that are employed by food establishments to conduct internal audits, while other auditors may represent the interests of a second-party purchaser or a third-party auditing agency. Some buyers conduct their own audits or additional testing, while some buyers trust the results of third-party audits or inspections. Third-party auditors, however, use various food safety audit standards and most do not have a vested interest in the products being sold. Audits are conducted under a proprietary standard, while food safety inspections are generally conducted within a legal framework. There have been many foodborne illness outbreaks linked to food processors that have passed third-party audits and inspections, raising questions about the utility of both. Supporters argue third-party audits are a way to ensure food safety in an era of dwindling economic resources. Critics contend that while external audits and inspections can be a valuable tool to help ensure safe food, such activities represent only a snapshot in time. This paper identifies limitations of food safety inspections and audits and provides recommendations for strengthening the system, based on developing a strong food safety culture, including risk-based verification steps, throughout the food safety system.
Medical Xpress reports that French prosecutors have opened a probe into salmonella contamination and a major international recall of baby milk produced by dairy giant Lactalis, a legal source told AFP on Tuesday.
The investigation will focus on possible charges of causing involuntary injuries and endangering the lives of others but also possible cheating and failures in carrying out a product recall, the source said.
Reports of some 20 children falling sick after consuming Lactalis powdered milk—sold under several different brand names in France and abroad, including Picot and Milumel—first emerged in early December.
The company, one of the world’s largest producers of dairy products, ordered a first major recall on December 10 of nearly 7,000 tonnes of packets produced by a contaminated factory in Craon, northwest France.
At the time, it said it did not know how much of the potentially dangerous powder had been consumed or was in shops around the world and it announced a second, wider recall on December 21.
The group has now recalled all of its production from the Craon factory since February 15, blaming the contamination on renovation work carried out earlier this year.
The company believes the salmonella outbreak can be traced to an evaporation tower used to dry out the milk at the factory it acquired in 2006.
Lactalis, one of the largest dairy groups in the world, said it has been warned by health authorities in France that 26 infants have become sick since Dec. 1.
The French company, one of the world’s largest dairy groups, said it was warned by health authorities in France that 26 infants have become sick since Dec. 1.
According to a list published on the French health ministry’s website, the recall affects customers in countries around the world, including: Britain and Greece in Europe, Morocco and Sudan in Africa, Peru and Colombia in South America and Pakistan, Bangladesh and China in Asia. The United States, a major market for Lactalis, is not affected.
Company spokesman Michel Nalet told The Associated Press on Monday that the “precautionary” recall involves “several million” products made since mid-February.
Lactalis said in a statement that the 26 cases of infection were linked to products branded Picot SL, Pepti Junior 1, Milumel Bio 1 and Picot Riz.
How is it precautionary when 26 babies are sick?
It said it is “sincerely sorry for the concern generated by the situation and expresses its compassion and support to the families whose children fell ill.”
The health scare started earlier this month when Lactalis was told that 20 infants under six months of age had been diagnosed with salmonella infection. The company ordered a first recall that has been extended to more products at the request of French authorities following new reports of infections.
Lactalis is a privately held company headquartered in Laval, western France. It has 75,000 employees in 85 countries and annual revenues of about 17 billion euros ($20 billion). Its other notable brands include President and Galbani cheeses and Parmalat milk.