Lactalis Group and the company Celia Laiterie de Craon were indicted last Thursday, February 16, in the investigation into the salmonella contamination stemming from some of its infant milk products. The two firms have been charged with aggravated deception, involuntary injuries and non-execution of withdrawal and recall measures, and have been placed under judicial supervision with a bond of €300,000/US$320,509 each.
The scandal broke out in late 2017 in France after a total of 35 babies showed salmonella symptoms within three days of being fed Lactalis products, mostly infant formula.
Lactalis CEO Emmanuel Besnier admitted at the time that around 83 countries had been affected and 12 million boxes of powdered baby milk were being recalled. But delays in the recall process meant that health inspectors were reporting that several retailers, including supermarkets and pharmacies, had failed to dispose of the affected products despite the recall order.
Production at the affected factory had to be postponed for more than six months. The Craon factory, located in Mayenne, had been contaminated with salmonella in 2005, and a report by France’s Institut Pasteur in 2018 concluded that the same strain of the bacteria had been present between 2005 and 2017.
Responding to the indictment, Lactalis said in a statement: “This step marks the beginning of the judicial investigation in which Lactalis will be fully involved and in full transparency.”
“In the coming weeks, we will have access to all the elements in the case and we will be able to respond specifically to the totality of the points raised in this investigation.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, salmonella causes about 1.35 million infections, 26,500 hospitalizations, and 420 deaths in the US each year. Symptoms - most commonly diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps - usually begin six hours to six days after infection and last four to seven days. Children, especially infants, are most likely to get sick, and infants are at a higher risk of complications.