An involuntary homicide investigation has been opened following the deaths of two children from E.coli poisoning linked to Buitoni Fraîch’Up pizzas.
The inquiry, launched by the public health department of Paris’ public prosecution service, concerns “involuntary homicide” with regards to one person, “unintentional injury” with relation to 14 people, “deceptive information on products resulting in a danger to human or animal health,” and “commercialisation of a product which is dangerous for health”.
Police searches have been carried out on the Buitoni factory in Caudry (Nord), where the pizzas were produced, and the French headquarters of Nestlé, which owns the Buitoni brand.
The latest information published by health authorities this week states that there have so far been 56 confirmed cases of hemolytic–uremic syndrome (HUS), a blood disorder which causes kidney failure and low platelets which is normally caused by E.coli.
Almost all of the patients were aged under 17 with the youngest being just a baby. Two have died, one an eight-year-old boy. The age of the other child has not been reported.
Since the first cases emerged, the families of victims have been calling for an official investigation.
Yesterday (May 12), France’s Health Minister Olivier Véran said that he was “scandalised” by recently published images of the Caudry factory, which showed highly unsanitary conditions, with discarded ingredients scattered over the floor and left there for days or weeks.
Mr Véran also said that he “fully joined in the pain” of the victims’ families.
"The managers of Nestlé and Buitoni must be brought to justice and it would be intolerable to sweep this affair under the carpet," said Pierre de Buisson, one of the lawyers representing the families.
He added that children who consumed the contaminated pizza have suffered brain, heart and lung injuries.
It is still not known which ingredients in the Fraîch’Up pizzas contained the E.coli bacteria.
Nestlé has not responded to media requests for comment.
Since the E.coli outbreak began, it has been announced that the agriculture ministry will create a “unique police force” in charge of ensuring food safety.
Some 60 staff will be transferred from the Direction générale de la Concurrence, de la Consommation et de la Répression des fraudes (DGCCRF), with the aim of improving checks on food production companies. The new force will be effective from 2023.