Buitoni scandal: Caudry factory authorized to reopen

The northern prefecture approved on Friday the partial resumption of production in the Buitoni pizza factory in Caudry (north) of the Nestlé group, at the heart of a serious health scandal. It had been closed for nine months.

The Buitoni pizza factory in Caudry in the north will partially reopen, the northern prefecture announced. The latter had closed its doors nine months ago when the health scandal involving pizzas contaminated with Escherichia coli bacteria had broken out.

But if the Caudry factory resumes operations, the line that produces raw dough pizzas from the Fraîch’Up range, suspected of causing the death of two children and the poisoning of dozens of others with the bacteria Escherichia coli, will remain switched off.

In his press release on Friday, the prefect of the North announced that, in a decree with immediate effect, he had approved the reopening of “the line of pizzas with cooked dough, exclusively”, given that in this part of the factory, ” control pizza production conditions’ had been reached.

“This restart follows a process of several months, in consultation with the authorities, to meet detailed specifications on the safety of our supplies, our products and on a plan to modernize the factory”, responded Nestlé, which owns this production plant.

“We are approaching this reopening by continuing to be part of a process of evidence and transparency to all”, the group added, specifying that the “terms of recovery” would be “communicated in the coming days”.

A first step for workers at the Buitoni factory

“This is what we have been waiting for for several months, so we are happy. It is going in the right direction,” delighted Stéphane Derammelaere, Force Ouvrière delegate at the factory. “After that is a stage. We still need consumers to come back and buy our products.”

Public Health France (SPF) and the Fraud Prevention Department (DGCCRF) were warned in February 2021 of an increase in cases of kidney failure in children linked to contamination with Escherichia coli.

On March 18, Nestlé had recalled its pizzas and closed the two production lines, and on April 1, the prefecture had banned all activity there, as health authorities had established a link between the consumption of Fraîch’Up pizzas and several serious cases of E. .coli contamination .

Following searches in Caudry and at Nestlé’s headquarters in Hauts-de-Seine, a judicial investigation was opened in mid-May, particularly for manslaughter against one person and involuntary manslaughter regarding fourteen others.

The factory had been closed due to “abnormalities in terms of hygiene in premises and food (…) and in terms of food safety”, the prefecture had recently recalled, without, however, specifying these irregularities.

According to her, Nestlé, owner of the Buitoni brand, only intended to resume production of pizzas with cooked dough.

Lack of hygiene and maintenance at the factory

This recovery was contingent on various operations of “maintenance, cleaning-disinfection” and “strengthening the health control plan,” the prefecture specified. In July, the head of Nestlé France, Christophe Cornu, presented his “apologies” to the families of the affected children 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 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 February 16, 2022.

According to internal analyzes carried out by the company, “the most likely hypothesis” is that “contamination of the flour with the bacteria E.coli STEC”, of the same type as that found in the pizzas originally contaminated.

Other possible causes have also been put forward, such as cleaning and hygiene conditions, following numerous warnings in the past and incriminating testimony from employees.

Health authority inspections for several years had reported “the presence of rodents” and “lack of maintenance and cleaning of production, storage and passage areas” at the factory, according to the April 1 prefectural decree.

In October, Nestlé president Paul Bulcke had said he wanted to get “to the bottom” of the issue to understand what happened at the Caudry factory.

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