FRANCE – Dairy giant Lactalis is facing criminal charges in France in relation to a Salmonella outbreak in 2017 linked to its infant formula.

The dairy company confirmed it was under criminal investigation and said it would cooperate with authorities.

Prosecutors brought charges for fraud, a failure to carry out a product withdrawal and recall, and involuntary bodily harm. The firm’s subsidiary Celia-Laiterie De Craon is also involved.

Along with the impacted families, the non-governmental organization Foodwatch filed a complaint against Lactalis in February 2018.

The group claimed that the new development was the positive progress that both it and the affected families had been hoping for.

“This step marks the beginning of the legal investigation in which Lactalis will fully and transparently commit. All Lactalis employees and managers are fully aware of the hardships experienced by the families whose children have been ill and we would like all clarifications to be provided. 

“It is essential, for them as for Lactalis, that the judicial investigation provides these answers. In the coming weeks, we will have access to all elements of the file and will be able to respond precisely to all the points raised,” said Lactalis.

In December 2017, production at the Craon plant in France was halted as part of an inquiry into a Salmonella agona outbreak.

38 babies in France, 2 in Spain, and 1 in Greece became ill as a result of the outbreak. At least 18 infants were hospitalized.

Lactalis withdrew and recalled more than 7,000 tons of suspected products manufactured from mid-February 2017

The recalled baby formula was shipped to more than 80 countries, necessitating the cooperation of the Food and Agricultural Organization’s (FAO) and the World Health Organization’s International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) (WHO).

In September 2018, Lactalis was permitted to resume sales of baby formula produced at the facility, reports Food Safety News.

During the investigations, the investigators discovered that the Salmonella strain behind a 2005 outbreak that caused 141 infections was the same one responsible for the current outbreak. Back then the Craon production site was owned by Célia.

Only one of 176 and four of 27 samples from two implicated food products and six of 420 environmental samples tested positive for Salmonella agona.

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