PARIS • French baby-milk maker Lactalis and the health authorities have ordered a major international product recall because of fears of salmonella contamination following 26 cases of children falling sick in France.
Company spokesman Michel Nalet told AFP "nearly 7,000 tonnes" of production may have been contaminated, but the company is unable to say currently how much remains on the market, has been consumed or is in stock.
Lactalis, one of the world's biggest producers of dairy products, sells its baby milk in packets ranging from 350g to 950g, which are marketed globally under a host of brand names.
The recall will affect consumers in countries as diverse as China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Britain and Sudan, underlining the firm's reach and the difficulty in trying to trace all the potentially at-risk powder.
A check by The Straits Times of supermarket websites found that Lactalis milk is sold in Singapore under its Lactel line. Three types of Lactel milk are sold here: UHT semi-skimmed milk, UHT skimmed milk and UHT whole milk.
Yesterday's announcement by the company and regulators in the French Economy Ministry significantly widens the scare which emerged at the start of the month, with reports of 20 sick children under the age of six.
A statement from the Economy Ministry said the measures put in place by Lactalis since Dec 2 were "not sufficient to manage the risk of contamination" and a broader recall was necessary.
The company believes the salmonella outbreak can be traced to an evaporation tower - used to dry out the milk - at a factory in the town of Craon in north-west France. All products made there since Feb 15 have been recalled, said Lactalis spokesman Michel Nalet.
Salmonella symptoms include severe diarrhoea, stomach cramps and vomiting. The illness - caused by intestinal bacteria from farm animals - is dangerous for the very young and the elderly because of the risk of dehydration.
The victims in France have since recovered and, when asked if any cases had been reported abroad, Lactalis spokesman Mr Nalet replied: "Not as far as I am aware."
The company believes the salmonella outbreak can be traced to an evaporation tower - used to dry out the milk - at a factory in the town of Craon in north-west France.
All products made there since Feb 15 have been recalled, Mr Nalet said, adding that the firm was taking fresh precautionary measures of disinfecting all of its machinery at the factory.
The baby milk industry was shaken by a huge scare in China in 2008 when local manufacturers were found to be bulking their product with an industrial chemical.
Six babies died and around 300,000 others were made ill.
The scare benefited firms such as Lactalis and fellow French giant Danone then.