A consumer watchdog has filed a complaint against Nestlé and Ferrero in relation to recent E. coli and Salmonella outbreaks involving the companies.

In the action, Foodwatch France lists seven offences including placing on the market products harmful to health and failure to implement procedures to withdraw or recall such a product, endangering the lives of others and export to a non-EU country of food potentially harmful to health.

The two complaints include the case of Louna, a 6-year-old, who was hospitalized because of a Salmonella infection after eating Kinder chocolate, said Foodwatch. The multi-country outbreak has sickened hundreds.

The Nestlé E. coli outbreak involves 56 cases and two deaths from Buitoni brand Fraîch’Up pizzas in France. Production at the factory in Caudry was stopped in April. The Paris prosecutor’s office has opened a criminal inquiry into the incident.

The Ferrero monophasic Salmonella typhimurium chocolate outbreak has affected at least 324 people in 16 countries. Belgian authorities halted production at the Arlon facility in April, and an investigation has been launched by the Luxembourg Public Prosecutor’s Office.

The two Foodwatch complaints against Nestlé and Ferrero were filed in Paris this week by the law firm Teissonniere Topaloff Lafforgue Andreu et Associés (TTLA) on behalf of the group and several victims. They are seeking sanctions against the companies and compensation for the victims.

Criticism of food control system
“When you are an agri-food giant like Nestlé or Ferrero, you cannot ignore the law and take your food safety responsibilities lightly. However, Kinder and Buitoni products have made many children sick as well as adults. This is unacceptable. Nestlé and Ferrero must be held to account,” said Karine Jacquemart, director of Foodwatch France.

Foodwatch said the incidents were preventable or their impact could have at least been reduced.

“These cases show that we cannot trust Nestlé and Ferrero, despite being leaders in their sector, and that the self-checking system entrusted to manufacturers is not sufficiently effective. In both cases, it was the health authorities who had to sound the alarm in the face of a worrying outbreak. While the alert should have come from the manufacturers. How could Nestlé and Ferrero, responsible for ensuring the safety of the food they market, let contaminated products leave their factories for weeks without noticing?”

The consumer group said it has been concerned for years about the system being reactive instead of preventive, recalls when it is already too late, problems posed by inefficient self-controls, a lack of public resources and weak sanctions.

Foodwatch has also published an open letter that people can sign to show their support for the complaint and to those sickened.

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