The baby milk scandal contaminated with salmonella is at a turning point. More than four years after the opening of a judicial investigation, Lactalis and the production company Celia Laiterie de Craon were indicted this Thursday, February 16 for aggravated deception, involuntary injuries and non-execution of withdrawal and recall measures, according to the dairy group. The two companies were placed under judicial supervision with a bond of €300,000 each.
Today there are at least 150 civil parties in this case. Since 2017, more than 300 complaints have been filed.
► End of 2017: first babies infected
The case broke in November 2017. Health authorities identified a total of 53 infants with salmonellosis, with food poisoning ranging from mild gastroenteritis to more serious infections in babies. These infants had all consumed a product for children, mainly of the Milumel or Picot brand, from the Craon factory, located in Mayenne. Potentially contaminated batches are recalled by Lactalis from December 21.
► Mid-January 2018: a chaotic withdrawal process
Many malfunctions that led to the contamination are then brought to light. After several weeks of crisis, the group, renowned for its culture of secrecy, withdrew all of its infant formula produced in the offending factory, whose production had had to be suspended for more than six months. The main retail groups have admitted having sold boxes of infant milk from the dairy giant despite three recall campaigns.
► January to February 2018: behind the scenes revealed
The company claims that the contamination was explained by “work carried out during the first half of 2017”. But the Craon factory had already been contaminated with salmonella in 2005, when it belonged to the Celia company, before its takeover by Lactalis in 2006. The Institut Pasteur then announced that it had come to the conclusion that the bacterium presents in Craon survived between 2005 and 2017.
► End of 2019: the boss of Lactalis in police custody
After several hundred complaints filed and several dozen people interviewed, the CEO of the dairy group, Emmanuel Besnier, was in turn heard in police custody by investigators from the central office for combating attacks on the environment and public health (Oclaeps). However, he leaves without pursuit.
► October 2022: revelations on health security breaches
The investigative media Disclose revealed at the end of October 2022 breaches of the rules of hygiene and control on the French sites of Lactalis after having obtained dozens of reports from the General Directorate for Consumer Competition and the Prevention of Fraud ( DGCCRF). He points to the recycling of downgraded batches, milk stored in direct sunlight, or even dilapidated facilities.
An expert report rendered the same month and added to the file underlines that “the company lacked vigilance or even clairvoyance vis-à-vis the repeated negative signals which alerted to a loss of manufacturing safety”.
► February 16, 2023: Lactalis indicted
Following a summons to the Paris court, Lactalis and Celia are indicted for aggravated deception, involuntary injuries and non-execution of withdrawal and recall measures, and placed under judicial supervision with a bond of €300,000 each.
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