Lactalis is facing criminal charges in France in relation to a Salmonella outbreak in 2017 linked to its infant formula.

The dairy company confirmed it was under criminal investigation and said it would cooperate with authorities.

Prosecutors brought charges for fraud, a failure to carry out a product withdrawal and recall, and involuntary bodily harm. The firm’s subsidiary Celia-Laiterie De Craon is also involved.

“This step marks the beginning of the legal investigation in which Lactalis will fully and transparently commit,” said a Lactalis statement.

“All Lactalis employees and managers are fully aware of the hardships experienced by the families whose children have been ill and we would like all clarifications to be provided. It is essential, for them as for Lactalis, that the judicial investigation provides these answers. In the coming weeks, we will have access to all elements of the file and will be able to respond precisely to all the points raised.”

Non-governmental organization Foodwatch filed a complaint alongside affected families in February 2018. The group said the development was the good news that it and many families of those sick had been waiting for.

Production at the Craon site in France was suspended in December 2017 as part of a Salmonella agona outbreak investigation. Lactalis was allowed to restart sales of infant formula made at the plant in September 2018.

The outbreak sickened 38 babies in France, two in Spain, and one in Greece. At least 18 infants were hospitalized.

Lactalis withdrew and recalled more than 7,000 tons of implicated products manufactured from mid-February 2017. The recalled formula was distributed to more than 80 countries and needed the involvement of the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN), managed by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Investigators found it was the same strain that was behind 141 illnesses in 2005 when the Craon production site was owned by Célia. Only one of 176 and four of 27 samples from two implicated food products and six of 420 environmental samples tested positive for Salmonella Agona. 

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