French dairy giant Lactalis recently reported that baby milk produced at its Craon factory could have been contaminated with salmonella for more than a decade.
Last week the company said in a statement that Salmonella Agona was found in one of the baby milk drying towers at the north-western French plant. The same strain was also found there in 2005, leaving scope for over a decades worth of contamination.
According to Les Echos, Lactalis CEO Emmanueal Besnier said: “It can not be ruled out that babies have consumed contaminated milk during this period.”
The main tower in which the contamination was found will now be shut down but further penalties are yet to be decided.
Alistair Mackenzie, product liability expert and barrister at leading civil and commercial chambers 2 Temple Gardens, had this to say: “Given the number of recent food contamination scares, for the authorities to finally hold a company properly to account is long overdue. The steps which regulators should be taking to prevent scandals on this scale, and over such lengthy periods of time, remains an open question – but it is clear something needs to change.
“Companies which sell food products are required to make sure their food is safe and take action immediately if they suspect that their produce is unsafe, not only by alerting the authorities but also by recalling the product instantly. The fact that this problem has been persisting for a decade points to a real breakdown of those legal obligations, and raises questions as to whether Lactalis was nearly quick enough in responding to safety concerns.
“The French government has warned Lactalis that it should expect penalties over the scandal. Other businesses in the food industry will be keeping a close eye to see how far the regulators will go in sending a message that such obligations should be taken seriously.”