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France regrets 'dysfunction' in Lactalis baby milk recall

The French government issued an international alert last December, warning that batches of the Lactalis infant formula could be contaminated with Salmonella. Cris Bouroncle/AFP

French Agriculture Minister St├ęphane Travert said Thursday there had been a "major dysfunction" in a recall of Lactalis baby milk. Stores sold potentially contaminated milk last December despite being told to take it off their shelves.

Lactalis, one of the world's largest producers of dairy products, in December issued a recall of all products made at its factory in Craon, northwest France, after discovering salmonella bacteria at the site.

But several retailers admitted this week that they had continued to sell the brand's milk even after the ban.

Boxes of Lactalis sold after the ban

"This is a major dysfunction in the withdrawal and recall by the operators who carry the responsibility," French Agriculture Minister St├ęphane Travert told a news conference.

Supermarket chain Carrefour said Wednesday it had sold 434 boxes of Lactalis baby milk that should have been withdrawn after the ban and Systeme-U admitted to 384 boxes. Earlier Leclerc said it had sold 984 Lactalis products since the recall and Auchan 52.

Industrial leaders, intermediaries and retailers must now "shed all possible light on the failings that they discovered and assure us that none of the products concerned are still on the market or in stores," Travert said.

No date to lift the ban

He said no date to lift the ban could be set "while we have not exactly and precisely identified the source of the contamination, and before it has not been clearly identified and removed," Travert said.

Last week, a report said that French food safety inspectors failed to detect salmonella contamination at the Lactalis, three months before the company carried out the recall.

It was only in December, after around 30 infants fed with Lactalis milk had fallen ill, that the health ministry sounded the alarm.

Lactalis is blaming the contamination on renovation work and issued two major recalls covering all production from the site dating back to 15 February, 2017.

Lactalis could face charges of causing involuntary injuries and endangering the lives of others.

- with AFP