Global recall of Lactalis baby milk over salmonella fears

'Nearly 7,000 tonnes' may have been contaminated, but the company could not say how much of the product is currently on the market, is in stock or has been consumed, said company spokesman

French manufacturer of milk brand Lactalis and health authorities ordered a major international product recall, for fears of salmonella contamination, in the wake of 26 cases of children getting sick in France.

Company spokesman Michel Nalet said that “nearly 7,000 tonnes” may have been contaminated, but the company could not say how much of the product is currently on the market, is in stock or has been consumed.

Lactalis is one of the world’s biggest producers of dairy products. It sells its baby milk in packets ranging from 350-950g, which are marketed globally under a host of brand names, including Celi, Picot and Milumel.

The recall is likely to affect consumers in countries including the UK, Bangladesh, China, Pakistan and Sudan, underlining the reach of the company and the difficulty in attempting the trace all those at potential risk.

The company’s announcement, which came on Sunday significantly widens the scare, which first emerged at the beginning of December, with reports of 20 sick children under the age of six.

A statement from the economy ministry said that the measures put in place by Lactalis since 2 December were “not sufficient to manage the risk of contamination” and a broader call was required.

Symptoms of salmonella include severe diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps. It is caused by intestinal bacteria from farm animals, is risky for the very young and the elderly due to the risk of dehydration.

The children who fell ill in France have since recovered and, when asked if any cases had been reported abroad, Lactalis spokesman Nalet said “Not as far as I am aware.”

The company believes the salmonella outbreak can be traced to an evaporation tower – used to dry out the milk – at a factory in the town of Craon in northwest France.

All products made there since 15 February have been recalled, Nalet said, adding that the company was taking fresh precautionary measures of disinfecting all of its machinery at the factory.

The baby milk industry was shaken by a huge scare in China in 2008 when local manufacturers were found to be bulking their product with an industrial chemical.

Six babies died and around 300,000 others were made ill. The scare benefited rival companies such as Lactalis and fellow French giant Danone.

In 2013, Danone suffered what turned out to be a false alarm about botulism in its baby milk which did huge damage to its reputation and undermined group profits.

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