Turns out that Lactalis, a multinational dairy business based in France, might have been selling powdered milk products—including infant formula—contaminated with salmonella for more than a decade. Great.
The New York Times has unpacked the details of this scandal, currently one of the biggest stories in France, which seems just to keep getting worse. It began in early December, when Lactalis issued a recall of their product—the first of three so far. Babies kept getting sick; the number now stands at 38, though, mercifully, there have been no deaths. The problem seems to stem from one of two cooling towers (used to make powdered milk) at a specific factory. CNN reported on the latest discoveries:
The company said in a statement Thursday that Salmonella Agona was found in one of the drying towers at the plant in north-western France.
It’s the same strain linked to an outbreak in 2005, and the company said cases of contamination since then may have been possible.
“It can not be ruled out that babies have consumed contaminated milk during this period,” Lactalis CEO Emmanueal Besnier told French news outlet Les Echos.
The factory was under different ownership during the 2005 outbreak, when 140 French children got sick.
There’s also broader context to this story, which is this isn’t Europe’s only recent food safety scandal. The Times noted that in 2017, it was insecticide-tainted eggs; in 2013 it was “beef” that was actually horse meat. “The massive recall and the missteps along the way have exposed corporate lapses and regulatory gaps that allowed tainted products to make their way into supermarkets and pharmacies, even weeks after the problems were discovered,” said the Times.
Infant formula must be one of the most sensitive things a manufacturer can produce; people who opt to feed their newborns your formula are granting an incredible degree of trust. You’d think that any company would be especially careful with product safety out of self-preservation alone, knowing that any slip would incur the wrath of justifiably furious parents. And yet!