Nestlé is looking at closing a site in France where contaminated pizzas were produced in 2022. Two children died in the outbreak.

The Force Ouvrière union said it believes the central reason for the issue was the E. coli outbreak linked to frozen pizzas from the Fraîch’Up brand.

During a meeting this past week, la Société des Produits Alimentaires de Caudry (SPAC), owned by Nestlé, told trade unions that expected volumes were down as part of commercial negotiations. Reasons given for this included increased competition.

Nestlé is considering either a reorganization of operations or closing the factory. A final decision on the way forward is expected by March 30. If the site is closed, more than 120 employees would be affected, according to Force Ouvrière.

A Nestlé France spokesperson said faced with a sharp decline in pizza order forecasts, the firm announced a temporary suspension of operations at the Caudry (Nord) factory.

“The food market has been evolving for almost a year in a competitive context reinforced by an inflationary trend. In addition, the Buitoni crisis of 2022 led to a drastic fall in sales of frozen pizzas, which has continued since: the pizza market has fallen by 20 percent in one year and has had an even greater impact on the Buitoni brand, which was at the forefront of this crisis. Despite all the efforts made to ensure that the factory can be restarted in the best possible conditions in December 2022, the deterioration in the outlook for orders for its pizzas has forced Nestlé France to react,” said the spokesperson.

In December, Nestlé was allowed to partially reopen the Buitoni factory in Caudry. Approval applied to the production of pizzas with cooked dough. The line making pizzas with no rebaking of dough, such as the Fraîch’Up range, was not restarted.

Overall, 56 confirmed and two probable cases with a median age of 6 were found with illness onset between mid-January and April 2022. There were 50 cases of Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), two children died and two others had severe aftereffects of infections. HUS is a type of kidney failure associated with E. coli infections that can result in lifelong, serious health problems.

Patients were positive for Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) O26:H11 or O103:H2. Only two people were sick from E. coli O103, according to Santé publique France, the country’s public health agency. 

STEC O26:H11 and O103:H2 outbreak strains were isolated from pizzas sampled in patients’ homes and at the manufacturing plant. E. coli was also found in the flour used to make pizzas.

In March 2022, Nestlé recalled and withdrew the incriminated pizzas, and production at the plant was suspended. A criminal inquiry into the incident was opened in May.

Also this past week, a judge in a Toulon court ordered Nestlé and SPAC to pay €20,000 ($21,300) as compensation to the family of a 12-year-old child sickened in the outbreak, according to French media reports.

“At an interim hearing the court ordered Nestlé to pay a provisional sum to the defendant. This is an interim order and does not pre-judge the court’s decision on the merits of the claim against Nestlé,” said the Nestlé France spokesperson.

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