FAO and WHO network involved as baby formula recall impacts 45 countries

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Picture: iStock. INFOSAN and ECDC on Lactalis infant formula recall
Picture: iStock. INFOSAN and ECDC on Lactalis infant formula recall

Related tags Infant formula

A network managed by FAO and WHO is involved in trying to prevent further infections in the Salmonella outbreak from Lactalis infant formula.

The International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) helped exchange information across borders for the internationally traded products.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said 35 confirmed cases of Salmonella Agona infections among infants aged less than six months have been identified in different regions of France.

The agency added infant formula products have been distributed internationally to more than 50 countries and territories.

Among cases for which information is available, 16 were admitted to hospital and all were discharged with no fatalities.

Communication to countries

Implicated product has been distributed in 45 countries including France, Greece, the Netherlands, Romania, Slovenia and Spain.

Lactalis (LNS) said it had traced the source of Salmonella​ contamination to one of its drying towers at the Craon site from 1-6 May this year. Contamination appears to have happened following construction work in the first half of the year.

The firm has recalled all infant and nutritional products manufactured or packaged in the Craon plant since mid-February this year. Certain Picot, Milumel and Taranis​ branded items are affected.

Lactalis Nutrition Santé withdrew and recalled over 600 batches (more than 7,000 tonnes) of products manufactured from 15 February to present.

Affected countries (Source: RASFF)

Afghanistan, Algeria, Andorra, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cameroon, China, Congo (Brazzaville), Cyprus, Côte d'Ivoire, France, Gabon, Georgia, Greece, Guinea, Haiti, Hong Kong, Iraq, Kosovo, Kuwait, Lebanon, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Monaco, Morocco, Netherlands, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Qatar, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Seychelles, Slovenia, Spain, Sudan, Switzerland, Taiwan, Togo, Turkey, Ukraine, UAE, Vietnam, Yemen, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

The INFOSAN Emergency Contact Point in France shared distribution details of affected products with the INFOSAN Secretariat.

The secretariat notified the emergency contact points in importing countries of the affected infant formula to stop distribution of contaminated products and allow members to implement risk management measures to prevent additional illnesses.

INFOSAN Emergency Contact Points have told WHO of measures taken including market withdrawal of products and public health advice to consumers.

The International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) said because of confusion about where affected products have been exported to it is calling on its members to check whether batches are in retail outlets.

ECDC monitoring the event

Meanwhile, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) is monitoring a network that allows experts to exchange information to assess public health threats. 

The agency said it was monitoring the event in the Epidemic Intelligence Information System- Food- and Waterborne Diseases and Zoonoses (EPIS-FWD) and is in communication with possibly affected countries.

“This outbreak of Salmonella Agona affects primarily infants and is associated with different brands of infant milk formula produced in one factory in France,” ​said ECDC.

“Biochemical tests and ultimately whole genome sequencing (WGS) analysis will confirm whether cases of Salmonella Agona in infants have a link with the outbreak.”

Whole genome sequencing services are being offered to countries who do not have the capacity or possibilities for timely analysis while the comparison of sequences is by the Institute Pasteur.

Le Centre national de référence (CNR) des Salmonella at Institut Pasteur said it was the identification of eight cases in eight days which started the alert. 

S. Agona is the tenth most common Salmonella serotype in the EU/EEA. In 2012-16, it was reported by 26 countries with 400-581 cases annually.

The UK, Germany and France accounted for the highest proportion of confirmed cases (30%, 16% and 14%, respectively). Cases were most frequent among adults aged 25-44 (23%) and children under age five (22%).

Foodwatch wants answers

UFC-Que Choisir, a French consumers group, said it is to file a complaint with a Paris prosecutor against Lactalis to find out more details regarding the contamination.

Another consumer organisation, Foodwatch, questioned why it took until 4 December for French authorities to pass information to the European alert system (RASFF).

The group also said the food traceability system is still not fit for purpose as initially only 12 batches were signalled as contaminated which increased to more than 600​ and only ten countries were initially alerted by the European RASFF system which rose to 45.

Karine Jacquemart, Foodwatch France director, said: “The source of the contamination must be brought to light, those responsible identified, and legal sanctions applied. Foodwatch has written to both the company and the ministers concerned to demand complete transparency in all aspects of the scandal, which could have, and should have, been avoided.“

Finally, in a written question, Biljana Borzan asked the European Commission if it is planning to take action to prevent a public health emergency. It has six weeks to respond.

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