Lactalis identifies Salmonella contamination at Craon

Manufacturer outlines prospect of future production as causes of contamination at the baby milk and nutritional products plant in western France have been identified

Lactalis Group has released new information that sheds light on the source of the Salmonella Agona contamination that affected the the infant milks and nutritional products manufactured at its Craon plant in western France. The contamination led to a massive international product recall that has been ongoing since December last year.

Since the French regulators' alert on 1 December, Lactalis has worked with the authorities and external experts to identify and understand the origin and cause of the salmonella contamination of products made at Craon.

The site at Craon comprises two drying facilities: Tower 1 and Tower 2. A statement released on the company website said that investigation has confirmed the presence of salmonella is confined to Tower 1.

Contamination has been identified at the foot of Tower 1 and was present sporadically over several months in a manner sufficient to present a risk to several areas in the Tower.

It is thought that the disassembly of partitions and repair of floors in the building at the beginning of 2017, may have led to the accidental release of the bacteria, despite controls put in place to contain the spaces under construction.

Tower 1 is dedicated to the manufacture of small volumes of nutritional products and involves the use of specific equipment that can not be cleaned by the usual automated technologies. It was during the cleaning operations of these circuits, after the works, that the contamination took place.

The company also admitted that the tower could have been producing salmonella tainted baby milk since 2005.

Based on the number of cases recorded by the Institut Pasteur, France’s reference centre for monitoring salmonella, it is possible that some 25 babies were infected between 2006 and 2017 with the same strain of salmonella, in addition to the more recent cases identified.

In the statement, Emmanuel Besnier, President Director General of the group, said the company now understands the origin and the causes that led to the health accident and that the company has been able to draw lessons from this for the future.

Besnier pointed out the incident should not obscure a reality. "In 2017, we conducted more than 16,000 analyses on finished products, all of which proved to be compliant. These analyses carried out by an outside laboratory therefore raise the question of their effectiveness," he said in the statement.

The Lactalis boss has said that if the analyses of the finished products had revealed the presence of Salmonella Agona, the company would not have of course marketed the products and the crisis would of been avoided.

According to Besier, prior to the December alert, Lactalis did not know about the contamination of some of the products made in Craon. "Our reinforced controls since then and our investigations to understand the causes reveal that our control plan needs to be improved. In accordance with the commitments made a few weeks ago, we will present an action plan, very quickly, to the concerned authorities."

Amid the crisis, the company made the decision to stop the activity in Tower 1. The decision considers a mobility proposal for its employees. "In the coming weeks, we will share with the authorities a plan to restart Tower 2 and packaging lines. In parallel, I am already working on a project to build a new facility," said Besnier.

As a result of the investigations, the company plans to completely stop activity at Tower 1. However, in the coming weeks, Lactalis will share with the authorities a plan to restart of Tower 2 as well as packaging lines and it is already working on a project to build a new facility.

Meanwhile, a judicial investigation to determine who was responsible is set to continue.

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