French authorities are searching five factories in a criminal investigation in relation to a salmonella outbreak traced to contaminated baby milk from Lactalis. Photo illustration

French authorities are searching five sites run by dairy giant Lactalis in an investigation into the botched mass recall of baby milk products amidst a salmonella outbreak.

The Paris prosecutor’s office told The Associated Press on Wednesday the sites being searched include the company’s  headquarters in western France and the factory in Craon, where salmonella bacteria was found last year. The factory has been closed.

French fraud and health authorities launched a criminal investigation into the handling of the massive recall. At midweek, recalled baby milk products remained available in French hospitals, pharmacies and supermarkets — weeks after they were ordered pulled from shelves.

The head of Lactalis said the recall affected more than 12 million products in 83 countries.

Salmonella infections can be life-threatening, particularly for young children. So far, three dozen infants in France have been confirmed sick and a number of children in Spain and Greece may be sick from contaminated Lactalis products.

The privately owned company exports its products to dozens of countries in Europe, Africa and Asia.

Lactalis sells products in the United States, but none of the recalled baby milk has been traced to U.S. distributors at this time.

This past week, the Reuters reported that the company was widening the recall to cover all baby milk manufactured by the factory at the center of the contamination, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said.

The move came as the government sought to contain damage to the reputation of France’s agri-business industry in overseas markets.

After talks with Lactalis management, Le Maire said the company would recall all infant formula milk products made at its Craon factory that were still in warehouses and on store shelves, regardless of the date of manufacture.

“The aim of this radical step is simple: to avoid delays, problems in sorting batches and the risk of human error,” Le Maire said.

The tough measure reflects high-level frustration at the botched handling of the crisis after France’s biggest supermarkets — including Carrefour, Auchan and Leclerc — said some Lactalis products subject to recalls in December still found their way onto shelves in recent days.

The incident has been particularly embarrassing for the government after President Emmanuel Macron pushed food exports during a recent state visit to China.

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