Salmonella risk forces French firm to recall 12m baby milk boxes

Quentin Guillemain, president of the victim's association of the Lactalis baby milk products contaminated with Salmonella. 'Lactalis will recall all the baby milk products manufactured in Craon factory. Picture: CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images
Quentin Guillemain, president of the victim's association of the Lactalis baby milk products contaminated with Salmonella. 'Lactalis will recall all the baby milk products manufactured in Craon factory. Picture: CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images
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The head of French dairy giant Lactalis has declared that a recall of baby milk products because of a salmonella scare has been extended to 83 countries.

Lactalis president Emmanuel Besnier said more than 12 million boxes of infant milk products are now affected.

They represent all lots from the Lactalis factory in Craon, north-west France, where the salmonella bacteria was discovered last month.

The move comes after Mr Besnier met on Friday with France’s economy minister amid a bungled recall operation where the responsibility remained unclear.

Thirty-five babies have been diagnosed with salmonella in France along with one in Spain and a possible case in Greece.

Mr Besnier said all Lactalis products from its Craon factory were being recalled, regardless of the date of manufacture.

“We must take account of the scale of this operation – more than 12 million boxes are affected,” he said.

“They know that everything has to be removed from the shelves.”

The move comes after accusations that the company sought to hide the discovery of salmonella at the factory and bungled handling of the subsequent crisis, which Mr Besnier has denied.

The French authorities have also come under fire for their handling of the health scare.

Salmonella infections can be life-threatening.

The families of almost three dozen children who have fallen sick in France as a result of the contaminated baby milk have announced a raft of lawsuits.

A victims’ association said the reported cases was the tip of the iceberg and warned authorities that they were underestimating the number of cases.

After meeting, French finance minister Bruno Le Maire said: “The aim of this radical step is simple; to avoid delays, problems in sorting batches and the risk of human error.”

He added: “I cannot guarantee that right now there isn’t a single tin of baby milk left on a shelf in a giant warehouse or in a pharmacy. I think this (further recall) is the strongest guarantee we can give.”

Traces of salmonella bacteria had been discovered on a broom and a tile near drying equipment at the Craon factory in August and again in November.

However, Mr Besnier said no general alarm had been raised “because we had no element showing our products were affected”.

The company is only obliged to flag up reports of contamination if its products are affected under European law.