Nestlé is looking to resume operations at a factory that was at the center of an E. coli outbreak in France earlier this year.
Approval from French authorities is still pending but if granted, the Caudry plant will restart in November.
A total of 56 E. coli cases and two deaths were linked to Buitoni brand Fraîch’Up pizzas. Most were caused by E. coli O26 and two by E. coli O103, according to Santé publique France, the country’s public health agency.
Fraîch’Up pizzas were recalled in March and production at the factory was suspended. A criminal inquiry into the incident was opened in May.
People fell sick from January to April with many children developing hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney failure associated with E. coli infections that can result in lifelong, serious health problems and death.
E. coli found in flour
Nestlé said any restart would be carried out in coordination with authorities and relies on plant personnel and specialized companies. Production of pizzas from the Fraîch’Up range remains suspended.
More than 2,000 samples have been taken at Caudry of the factory environment, raw materials, silos and finished products.
Analyzes of flour samples and certain finished products revealed the presence of E. coli. Tests on all production lines and the environment did not detect the pathogen.
“In view of these results, the most likely hypothesis would be that of contamination with E. coli in the flour, from the last wheat harvest, which we did not detect. We are committed to putting in place the necessary measures to prevent such a situation from happening again,” said Nestlé.
A “series of measures” to prevent the presence of E. coli have been put in place plus microbial testing and other controls will be carried out on all finished products.
Fund for victims and whistleblower testimony
At the start of September, Nestlé created a support fund for patients diagnosed with typical or atypical HUS in France between January and August 2022.
The purpose is to provide assistance in the form of a lump sum allowance to families of patients with HUS in 2022 to cover costs and loss of income related to the disease. The fund is managed by the France Rein association.
Nestlé said it would not replace any claims for compensation as part of the ongoing legal investigation, if such a verdict is reached.
Earlier this month, an investigation by Radio France revealed a reduction in cleaning time and preventive maintenance at the site over several years, according to employees. They also claimed Buitoni went from using pasteurized flour to make the dough for its Fraîch’Up range to a non-heat-treated flour sometime in 2021.
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