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French dairy expands baby milk recall to include 83 countries

Fallout from a Salmonella outbreak traced to baby milk products from Lactalis is raining down on the French dairy company and retailers that continued selling the contaminated recalled products.

Friday Lactalis officials expanded the recall to include 83 countries and more than 12 million boxes of infant milk products. It is the second expansion since the company’s initial recall in December 2017 when 30 countries were involved.

Three dozen infants in France have been confirmed sick and other children in Spain and Greece are possible cases. Lactalis does sell products in the United States, but as yet none of the recalled baby milk has been traced to U.S. distributors.

In recent days French officials announced a criminal investigation into what Reuters reported some said was a “bungled recall” by Lactalis.

The government is also investigating Salmonella contamination at a Lactalis production plant. Investigators are also reviewing retailers’ records in an attempt to discover why recalled products remained on store shelves and were sold to consumers.

Also, angry parents of sick children have vowed that Lactalis cannot buy their silence. They are filing civil actions against the company. The parents expressed their rage as the company released a statement that it would “compensate” victims.

“We will compensate every family which has suffered a prejudice,” Chief Executive Emmanuel Besnier of Lactalis told the weekly Journal du Dimanche. He did not indicate how much the company would pay.

As of the most recent expansion, all lots produced at the Lactalis factory in Craon in northwest France are now under recall. Salmonella was found in the factory in December. The factory is closed for cleaning, resulting in lay offs of 250 of the 327 staff there, according to a Lactalis statement.

“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,” Bernier said Monday, according to Journal du Dimanche.

At least four of the largest supermarket chains in France are also on record about the complicated nature of the recall via statements to European and British media.

The online publication foodbev.com out of the United Kingdom reported the four chains all admitted to having stocked the recalled baby products.

“Carrefour, E.Leclerc, Auchan and Systéme U all continued to offer Lactalis baby milk after a recall had been issued last December. The issue threatens to deepen food safety concerns that have already led to the launch of a government inquiry,” according to the foodbev.com report.

A spokesperson for Systéme U told foodbev.com all the retailers had “made mistakes” and said the recall was complex. The spokesman, however, rejected the suggestion that Systéme U had taken too long to respond.

The family-owned Lactalis is the largest dairy group in the world with 230 industrial plants in 43 countries employing 75,000. In Europe, it is the largest in dairy and cheese, milk collection and cheese production. In addition to Europe, its products are sold in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. It owns numerous French and international brands. It has done business under the name of Lactalis since 1999.

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