Nestlé has decided to shut down a plant in France that was involved in an E. coli outbreak linked to pizzas in 2022.

A total of 56 confirmed and two probable cases with a median age of 6 were sick in the outbreak between mid-January and April 2022 because of contaminated frozen Buitoni Fraîch’Up pizzas. It was the largest E. coli-HUS outbreak ever documented in France. 

There were 50 cases of Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), two children died and two others had severe complications. HUS is a type of kidney failure associated with E. coli infections that can result in 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.

A decision was taken after assessing options
In March 2023, Nestlé suspended operations at the factory in Caudry and said it was looking at either a reorganization or closing the site. At the time, the Force Ouvrière union said more than 120 employees would be affected. Nestlé said it had faced a sharp decline in pizza order forecasts due to an evolving market and the Buitoni crisis.

After the closure was announced, Nestlé France said it would use “all means at its disposal” to ensure that the story of the Caudry site does not end here.

“Following a thorough evaluation of different options for the site and meetings with the relevant stakeholders, Nestlé France met with staff representatives on March 30 to present plans for the cessation of manufacturing and sales operations at the Société des Produits Alimentaires de Caudry. In parallel, Nestlé France has undertaken to conduct a thorough process aimed at identifying a robust and sustainable plan to bring new industrial activity to the site,” said a company statement. 

Nestlé added it would offer affected staff at least one opportunity at other sites in France or identify regional opportunities outside the company. No redundancies will be notified before Dec. 31, 2023.

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.

In December, Nestlé was allowed to partially reopen the plant. Approval covered 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. Resumption took place following the modernization of certain equipment and under the supervision of local authorities.

Typical baking temperatures and times for frozen pizzas should eliminate infection risk. Investigators are trying to understand the persistence of STEC in baked pizzas and why cooking temperatures and duration for the products didn’t prevent people from getting sick.

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