French officials have allowed a dairy company to resume operations at a site linked to a deadly E. coli outbreak earlier this year. 

The dairy, Chabert, was permitted to restart the marketing of raw milk reblochon cheese from its site in Cruseilles, a town in the Haute-Savoie department of the country, last week.

Fifteen children aged 1 to 5 years old from across France were infected with E. coli O26 between February and May. Laboratory tests confirmed 12 were affected by one strain of E. coli O26. Eleven of the infected children developed a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). One child died.

HUS is not common in France with between 100 and 160 cases being reported each year. Young children, the elderly, pregnant women and others with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to HUS, a life-threatening disease characterized by acute renal failure and low blood platelets.

Of the other three children, two were infected with an E. coli O26 strain different from that of the other 12 and for one child no strain could be isolated.

According to the RASFF portal, implicated cheese was distributed to Andorra, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Japan, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mali, Mauritius, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Seychelles, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

However, no other countries reported STEC O26H11 eae+ stx2+ infections.

An investigation by Santé Publique France confirmed an epidemiological link between the cases and consumption of raw milk reblochon produced at the Cruseilles site of Chabert. Chabert issued several product recalls in May and June and a ban on marketing of raw milk cheeses from Cruseilles was put in place.

French authorities said an investigation has made it possible to identify and eliminate the probable source of contamination and the company has adopted a reinforced protocol for self-monitoring. E. coli O26 was found in two dairy farms supplying Chabert establishments.

Chabert then set up a bacteriological analysis protocol to control the public health risk.

It is not known what the protocol involves, but it was validated in a French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) opinion. The opinion was part of the process to allow the ban on sale of raw milk cheeses from the site to be lifted.

Health authorities took the opportunity to remind the public that as a precaution, raw milk and raw milk cheeses should not be eaten by young children.

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