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    Nestle halts pizza plant after poisonings sap sales

    This photograph taken on September 15, 2022, shows a view of the entrance of the factory of the Buitoni group, with the logos of Nestle and Buitoni, in Caudry, northern France. (Photo by DENIS CHARLET/AFP via Getty Images)

    Food giant Nestle said Friday that it would suspend work at a French factory whose frozen pizzas were suspected to be behind deadly food poisonings in children last year.

    Sales of the Buitoni brand have plunged since two children died and dozens more fell ill in 2022 after eating pizzas from its Fraich’Up line, the Swiss group told AFP.

    One production line at its factory in Caudry, northeastern France, had reopened in December after nine months of stoppage.

    “Despite all the work put into restarting the factory… the worsening outlook for orders forced Nestle France to react,” a spokesman said.

    Employees have for now been told that the closure is temporary, although some fear the plant will be shuttered for good, taking almost 200 jobs with it.

    “I think we’re heading for the factory to be shut down, without a doubt,” Caudry mayor Frederic Bricout said, calling on Nestle to switch the workers to another product.

    Even before the halt, workers were no longer turning out the Fraich’Up pizzas, sold with uncooked bases, which are suspected of spreading the E. coli bacteria.

    Health authorities got on the trail of the food poisonings in February 2022 after a spate of kidney failures in children caused by E. coli.

    Nestle closed both Buitoni production lines in Caudry in March and issued a recall.

    The company reported that its in-house testing found no E. coli in or around the production line, but that frozen pizzas made between October 2021 and February 2022 were contaminated.

    The bacteria could have been introduced from the flour used to make the bases, poor hygiene conditions at the factory – which had received warnings in the past – or rodents interfering with the food.

    A court in the Paris suburb Nanterre will in May hear a case brought by 55 food poisoning victims claiming some €250 million euros (£221 million) in compensation.

    After searching the company’s sites in Caudry and in the Paris suburbs, prosecutors opened an investigation for one case of involuntary homicide and 14 more of involuntary bodily harm.

    Nestle France chief Christophe Cornu apologised to affected families in July, adding that the firm would open a fund to aid the victims.

    In October, group chairman Paul Bulcke vowed to “get to the bottom” of the poisonings.

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