AFP, published on Thursday, September 15, 2022 at 9:02 p.m.
The agri-food giant Nestlé announced Thursday that it was aiming to restart in November, subject to the green light from the authorities, one of the two production lines of its factory in Caudry (North), from which the contaminated Buitoni pizzas came out. by E.coli bacteria, linked to the death of two children and the poisoning of dozens of others.
This health scandal broke out last March, and the link with the factory was quickly established.
Judicial information was opened in mid-May, in particular for involuntary homicide against a person, involuntary injuries concerning 14 people, placing on the market of a product dangerous to health and endangering others. . Young children have suffered kidney damage called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).
Nestlé France told AFP on Thursday that it had put in place “a restart protocol” for the factory including the dismantling and cleaning of production lines, including flour silos.
The group wants to reopen only one of the two production lines, the one which produced pizzas of other ranges than the “Fraîch’Up” at the origin of the tragedy. The factory has been closed since March 18, and the prefect signed a closure order on April 1.
Contacted by AFP, the Nord prefecture indicated that the prefectural decree was at this stage “not repealed”, and will not be so “until the anomalies observed (…) are not completely corrected” . “The effectiveness of the actions undertaken” by the operator “will be closely checked by the State services”, she specifies.
According to Nestlé, the line where the Fraîch’Up were produced will remain suspended “until further notice”, which will result in job cuts.
“Given the sales outlook in a sector in difficulty and the suspension until further notice of the Fraîch’Up pizza production line, it is necessary to adapt the workforce of the factory”, explained a porter. word of Nestlé.
Out of a workforce of 182 full-time equivalents before the March recall procedures, around 80 positions could be affected by a departure plan “based on voluntary work”.
The group’s social partners were informed of the situation on Thursday morning, and the staff in the afternoon. Nestlé France has offered Caudry employees early retirement for those who are old enough, or internal mobility within the group, or other support measures for “external projects”.
In front of the factory, at the end of the meeting, the employees solicited by AFP did not want to speak.
– Contaminated flour –
Nestlé also revealed several results of internal analyzes carried out by the company itself. These confirm, according to the group, “the most probable hypothesis of contamination of the flour by the E.coli STEC bacterium”, of the same type as that which was found in the pizzas at the origin of the contaminations. .
These analyzes were carried out in May and June on flour delivered to the factory in March 2022.
This flour was stored in several of the factory’s silos, which had not been cleaned since 2015 according to employees quoted in a France Inter investigation on Saturday.
What Nestlé does not dispute. When silos contain a dry product, they “should only be cleaned when changing ingredients”, replied its spokesman on Thursday.
Contamination from flour delivered by a supplier was one of the hypotheses mentioned by the boss of Nestlé France in an interview with Le Figaro in July and by the employees quoted by France Inter. But other possible causes have been put forward, such as cleaning and hygiene conditions, after several warnings in the past and accusatory testimonies from employees.
Nestlé France, which says it has taken more than 2,000 samples, claims not to have detected any bacteria on the production lines and their environment (walls, grids, etc.), but did detect the bacteria on frozen pizzas produced between October 2021 and February 16, 2022.
Inspections by health authorities for several years had reported “the presence of rodents” and the “lack of maintenance and cleaning of manufacturing, storage and passage areas” in the factory. In 2012, the presence of “mold” and “rust” was noted, in 2020 that of “cobwebs” on the ceiling of the bakery, “greasy and oily” material or even dirt “accumulated” in the duct ventilation.
In March 2022, when the inspectors returned there “as part of the health alert”, they noted “a very clear deterioration in hygiene conditions” compared to September 2020 and March 2021, according to one of the reports of the Fraud.