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Four of France’s largest supermarket chains have admitted to stocking infant formula products despite concerns they were contaminated with salmonella.
Carrefour, E.Leclerc, Auchan and Systéme U all continued to offer Lactalis baby milk after a recall had been issued last December. The issue threatens to deepen food safety concerns that have already led to the launch of a government inquiry.
A spokesperson for Systéme U, which owns the chains Hyper U, Super U, Marché U and Utile, said all the retailers had “made mistakes”.
But Thierry Desouches also denied there was any malice in the retailers’ actions, questioning whether they would intentionally risk their reputations to keep stocking a product for ‘derisory’ profits.
Desouches claimed the recall was complex and rejected the suggestion that Systéme U had taken too long to respond.
Meanwhile, Leclerc is known to have sold almost 1,000 of the affected products. Three dozen children are thought to have fallen ill.
Lactalis – whose Picot, Milumel and Taranis brands were affected by the recall – has stopped operations at a factory in northwestern France in order to try and eliminate the risk to the public. Earlier today, it announced that it was temporarily laying off 250 of the 327 staff employed at the site in Craon.
Some of the products included in the recall were destined for markets overseas, including China.
Lactalis will be keen to avoid a crisis of confidence in the country, where domestically produced dairy has struggled to recover from a melamine crisis that killed six children and left hundreds of thousands of others ill.
The French dairy group, like many of its peers, sees China as an important market for growth.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2018