Following the scandal involving contaminated Buitoni pizzas, suspected of having in particular caused the death of two children, the production plant in question, located in Caudry (Nord), had to partially reopen following a positive decision by the Nord Prefecture.
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.
The line that produces the Fraîch’Up range of raw dough pizzas suspected of causing the death of two children and the poisoning of dozens of others with the Escherichia coli bacteria will remain closed.
On the other hand, the Prefect of the North announced on Friday in a press release that, in a decree with immediate effect, he had approved the reopening of “the range of pizzas with prepared dough, exclusively”, considering that on this part of the factory, “control of pizza production conditions” was achieved.
“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”, Nestlé responded to AFP
“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”.
The factory had been closed since April 1
“This is what we’ve been waiting for for months, so we’re happy. It’s going in the right direction,” delighted Stéphane Derammelaere, Force Ouvrière delegate at the factory. “After that, it’s a step. Consumers still have to come back to 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 in Nestlé’s headquarters in Hauts-de-Seine, a judicial investigation was opened in mid-May, in particular for involuntary manslaughter of one person and involuntary injuries concerning 14 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 recently reminded AFP, without detailing those irregularities.
According to her, Nestlé, owner of the Buitoni brand, only intended to resume production of pizzas with cooked dough.
Flour, probably main element of E. Coli contamination
This recovery was conditional on various operations of “maintenance, cleaning-disinfection” and “strengthening the health control plan”, the prefecture had 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 the manufacturing, storage and passage areas” at the factory, according to the April 1 prefectural decree.
In October, the president of Nestlé Paul Bulcke said he wanted to get “to the bottom” of the issue to understand what happened at the Caudry plant.