FRANCE – French authorities have opened criminal investigations against dairy and infant foods company Lactalis for failure to make timely recall of infant formula products believed to be contaminated with salmonella.

Several babies were diagnosed with salmonella poisoning at the end of 2017 in France and other regions in Europe after consuming infant formula products from Lactalis.

The products were mostly Milumel and Picot brands which are owned by Lactalis and produced at the Craon factory.

More than five years after the health scandal of infant milk contaminated with salmonella, French prosecutors are bringing criminal charges against the Lactalis group and the company Celia Laiterie de Craon (Mayenne).

The two firms have been charged with aggravated deception, involuntary injuries and non-execution of withdrawal and recall measures an have been placed under judicial supervision with a bond of €300,000/US$320,509 each.

Jade Dousselin, a lawyer for a consumer association of claimants in the case, told AFP that the charges of “proof of the existence of serious and confirmed evidence in this case”

About 36 babies were diagnosed with salmonella poisoning at the end of 2017 in France. Spain and Greece also reported cases, with Lactalis admitting that its powdered milk in more than 80 other countries was affected.

Claims were then made in January 2018 that the company was aware of the contamination as far back as August 2017 after conducting internal examinations but opted to keep the details unknown to its customers.

This however contradicted France’s Ministry of Agriculture’s investigations in the Craon factory which reported no traces of contamination at the site.

However, according to more investigations by France’s leading bacteriology body, the Institut Pasteur, the bacteria had been present in the site’s production since 2005.

At the beginning of 2018, the company finally suspended production and recalled products through multiple phases as more infants fell ill. These recalls amounted to 2 million packages of formula.

The company was then heavily condemned by France’s media to which the CEO Emmanuel Besnier responded by saying the company would pay compensation to every affected family.

Several hundred people filed lawsuits against Lactalis, mostly for fraud, and investigators took dozens of witness statements.

According to Jade Dousselin, the recent charge is “the first step towards a conviction of those responsible for this big health scandal”.

Lactalis said in a statement, “This step marks the beginning of the judicial investigation in which Lactalis will engage fully and transparently.

All Lactalis’ employees and managers are fully aware of the ordeals experienced by the families whose children were ill and hope that all the clarifications will be provided.”

Reckitt recalls infant formula products

Meanwhile, Reckitt Benckiser, a manufacturer and distributor of personal care, household, speciality products, nutrition, toiletry and health care products, has announced a recall of two batches of its plant-based infant formula.

145,000 cans of its ProSobee 12.9 oz Simply Plant-Based Infant Formula are to be recalled due to “a possibility of cross-contamination with Cronobacter sakazakii, according to the company.

The company affirmed that all distributed products went through extensive testing, tested negative for the bacteria and no illnesses or adverse events have been reported but it has chosen to recall the products out of “an abundance of caution.”

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