Nestlé has recalled some frozen pizzas in France after authorities linked them to an outbreak of E. coli infections.

Buitoni brand Fraîch’Up pizzas have been withdrawn and recalled because of possible contamination by E. coli O26. Nestlé took action after being told about the presence of E. coli in dough used in the frozen pizzas.

Investigations by authorities into a number of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) cases have pointed to a possible connection with consumption of the frozen pizzas. HUS is a type of kidney failure  associated with E. coli infections that can result in lifelong, serious health problems and death.

In total, 27 cases of HUS or serious infection caused by E. coli with similar characteristics, have been identified, and 31 other infections are under investigation.

The sick children, aged from 1 to 18 years old with a median age of 5 and a half had symptoms between Jan. 10 and March 10, 2022. Two youngsters have died.

In France, Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) surveillance is based only on HUS in children younger than 15, so it only catches the most severe cases of E. coli infection. It is unknown how many adults might be infected.

Ongoing investigation
Thirteen of the 58 cases live in Hauts-de-France, nine each in Nouvelle Aquitaine and Pays de la Loire, six both in Bretagne and Ile-de-France, five in Grand Est, three in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, two in Bourgogne Franche-Comté and Centre Val-de-Loire and one each in Normandie, Occitanie and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur.

Santé publique France, the Directorate General for Food (DGAL), Directorate General for Competition, Consumption and the Repression of Fraud (DGCCRF), and Directorate General for Health are analyzing all cases of pediatric HUS reported in 2022 to see if there is a link between them or a common source of contamination.

Investigations so far, which include epidemiological, microbiological and traceability work, have suggested the link with the frozen pizzas.

These efforts are ongoing to determine the origin of contamination, to see if other products are affected, and to establish potential links between food products and patients.

A recall has also been issued in Slovenia and Luxembourg as the affected pizzas were sold in E. Leclerc outlets in the former and Auchan and Monoprix stores in the latter country.

Consumers who purchased Fraîch’Up frozen pizzas before March 18 have been advised not to eat them and throw them away. All lots are affected and expiration dates range from June 1, 2022 to March 31, 2023.

About E. coli infections
Anyone who has developed symptoms of E. coli infection should seek medical attention and tell their doctor about their possible food poisoning. Specific tests are required to diagnose the infections, which can mimic other illnesses.

The symptoms of E. coli infections vary for each person but often include severe stomach cramps and diarrhea, which is often bloody. Some patients may also have a fever. Most patients recover within five to seven days. Others can develop severe or life-threatening symptoms and complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

About 5 to 10 percent of those diagnosed with E. coli infections develop a potentially life-threatening kidney failure complication, known as a hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Symptoms of HUS include fever, abdominal pain, feeling very tired, decreased frequency of urination, small unexplained bruises or bleeding, and pallor.

Many people with HUS recover within a few weeks, but some suffer permanent injuries or death. This condition can occur among people of any age but is most common in children younger than five years old because of their immature immune systems, older adults because of deteriorating immune systems, and people with compromised immune systems such as cancer patients.

People who experience HUS symptoms should immediately seek emergency medical care. People with HUS will likely be hospitalized because the condition can cause other serious and ongoing problems such as hypertension, chronic kidney disease, brain damage, and neurologic problems.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)