PARIS (Reuters) - Lactalis, the world’s largest dairy group, on Friday rejected media reports that salmonella had been detected in baby milk from a second production line at a French factory where contaminated milk led to dozens of babies falling ill last year.
The salmonella outbreak at the Craon plant in northwest France led Lactalis to recall millions of tins of baby milk in France and around the world, and drew criticism from politicians and consumer groups about a lack of transparency at the company, which is privately held by the Besnier family.
Lactalis has said the contamination originated in one production line which it has shut down permanently. In September, it received approval from the authorities to relaunch its second baby milk production line, or dryer, at Craon after suspending all output last December.
Citing an internal report by French health authorities last December in the midst of the product recall, French media reported that two types of salmonella had been detected by Lactalis in products made in the second dryer at Craon.
The company denied this, saying in a statement that a sentence quoted by media was incorrect.
“We confirm that there was no positive test for salmonella in products from the dryer no. 2 before this dryer was halted in December 2017,” Lactalis said in its statement.
France’s health ministry later said in an emailed response to Reuters that there had been an error of interpretation in the transcription of an internal meeting.
However, Lactalis confirmed it had detected salmonella around the dryer, as mentioned in the health authorities’ report, referring to “positive results from internal testing in the environment of the dryer no. 2”.
Lactalis has previously said that the contamination was confined to the now-shuttered dryer no. 1.
Under French law, food manufacturers are not obliged to report salmonella detected in the environment of a processing factory, only if a product is contaminated.
The distinction between environmental and product contamination was among issues highlighted by politicians who held parliamentary hearings this year on the salmonella outbreak.
Lactalis is also facing a legal inquiry, which was stepped up last month with the appointment of an investigating magistrate.
Jade Dousselin, a lawyer representing an association of families affected by the contamination, told Reuters she had received 130 complaints filed by families who will become civil parties in the case, and expected a total of 250 complaints.
In addition to relaunching its second production line at Craon, Lactalis also plans to revive its baby milk activity through its acquisition of the infant nutrition business of South African drugmaker Aspen Pharmacare.
Reporting by Emmanuel Jarry and Gus Trompiz; editing by David Evans