Nestlé may shut plant at the center of 2022 French E. coli outbreak

Nestlé may shut plant at the center of 2022 French E. coli outbreak

Nestlé is looking at closing a site in France where contaminated pizzas were produced in 2022. Two children died in the outbreak.

The Force Ouvrière union said it believes the central reason for the issue was the E. coli outbreak linked to frozen pizzas from the Fraîch’Up brand.

During a meeting this past week, la Société des Produits Alimentaires de Caudry (SPAC), owned by Nestlé, told trade unions that expected volumes were down as part of commercial negotiations. Reasons given for this included increased competition.

Nestlé is considering either a reorganization of operations or closing the factory. A final decision on the way forward is expected by March 30. If the site is closed, more than 120 employees would be affected, according to Force Ouvrière.

In December, Nestlé was allowed to partially reopen the Buitoni factory in Caudry. Approval applied to the production of pizzas with cooked dough. The line making pizzas with no rebaking of dough, such as the Fraîch’Up range, was not restarted.

Overall, 56 confirmed and two probable cases with a median age of 6 were found with illness onset between mid-January and April 2022. There were 50 cases of Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), two children died and two others had severe aftereffects of infections. HUS is a type of kidney failure associated with E. coli infections that can result in lifelong, serious health problems.

Patients were positive for Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) O26:H11 or O103:H2. Only two people were sick from E. coli O103, according to Santé publique France, the country’s public health agency. 

STEC O26:H11 and O103:H2 outbreak strains were isolated from pizzas sampled in patients’ homes and at the manufacturing plant. E. coli was also found in the flour used to make pizzas.

In March 2022, Nestlé recalled and withdrew the incriminated pizzas, and production at the plant was suspended. A criminal inquiry into the incident was opened in May.

Also this past week, a judge in a Toulon court ordered Nestlé and SPAC to pay €20,000 ($21,300) as compensation to the family of a 12-year-old child sickened in the outbreak, according to French media reports.

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