Perhaps the first step before the final closure: Nestlé France has announced to employees the suspension of the activity of the Buitoni pizza factory in Caudry (Nord), at the heart of a serious health scandal, due to a fall in sales, Friday, March 3.
The establishment produced raw dough pizzas from the Fraîch’Up range, suspected of having caused the death of two children and the poisoning of dozens of others by the bacterium Escherichia coli.
The factory had partially reopened in mid-December 2022 after nine months of shutdown, but the production line in question had never resumed its activity. Only the line of pizzas with cooked dough, not affected by the scandal, had been authorized to restart.
Market drops 20%
“The frozen pizza market has fallen by 20% in one year and has had an even greater impact on the Buitoni brand,” explained a spokesperson for Nestlé France. “Despite all the efforts made to ensure a restart of the plant in the best conditions in December 2022, the deterioration in the outlook for orders has forced Nestlé France to react”, he added.
The company has so far only announced to employees, during a meeting on Thursday, a “temporary suspension” of activity with immediate effect, but this could be the first step towards a permanent closure of the establishment.
“I think we are definitely heading towards a closure,” said the mayor of Caudry Frédéric Bricout. “What we are asking is the Nestlé group, a global group that makes billions in profits, to substitute another product for the production of pizzas in Caudry,” explained the elected official.
The factory’s employees, just under 200 people, will keep their salaries pending a final decision on their factory, Nestlé France said.
Public Health France (SPF) and the Fraud Prevention Department (DGCCRF) were alerted in February 2022 by an upsurge in cases of kidney failure in children, linked to contamination by Escherichia coli.
On March 18, Nestlé recalled its pizzas and closed the two production lines, and on April 1 the prefecture banned all activity there, the health authorities having established a link between the consumption of Fraîch’Up pizzas and several serious cases of contamination. to the E. coli.
After searches in Caudry and at the headquarters of Nestlé in the Hauts-de-Seine, a judicial investigation was opened in mid-May, in particular for involuntary homicide against one person and involuntary injuries concerning 14 others.
In July, the boss of Nestlé France Christophe Cornu presented his “apologies” to the families of the children affected and announced the creation of a “victim support fund”.
Nestlé France had indicated that it had taken more than 2,000 samples and had not detected any bacteria on the production lines and their environment (walls, grids, etc.), but had indeed detected the bacteria on frozen pizzas produced between October 2021 and 16 February 2022.
According to internal analyzes carried out by the company, “the most probable hypothesis” is that “of contamination of the flour by the bacterium E. coli STEC”, of the same type as that found in the pizzas originally contamination.
Other possible causes have also been put forward, such as cleaning and hygiene conditions, after several warnings in the past and accusatory testimonies from employees.
Inspections by health authorities for several years had reported “the presence of rodents” and the “lack of maintenance and cleaning of manufacturing, storage and passage areas” in the factory, according to the prefectural decree of April 1. . In October, the president of Nestlé Paul Bulcke said he wanted to go “to the bottom” of the question to understand what happened at the Caudry factory.
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