Ten people died and another 80 fell ill in France after eating contaminated Morbier and Mont d’Or cheese in a salmonella outbreak that health authorities knew about, a new report has revealed.
An investigation by France Inter radio said the two cheeses made in the Franche-Comté region in the east of the country from unpasteurised milk were at the root of the outbreak in late 2015 and early 2016.
The investigation produced a document which showed that in January 2016 national health authorities had discovered an unusually high number of salmonella contaminations in France that was centred on Franche-Comté.
Five cheese making companies in the region, between them making 60 different brands, were later identified as being at the source of the contaminations that began in November 2015 and continued until April the following year.
Those who died in the outbreak were old people who were physically weak or who suffered from another illness.
Jean-Yves Mano, the president of the CLCV consumer association, said he was surprised that a product recall had not been ordered of products that might have been infected with salmonella, which can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain in those affected.
“We do not understand why a general alert was not issued by state officials, or at least information given on what precautions to take,” he told France Inter.
The state food agency, the Direction générale de l’alimentation (DGAL), said there were two reasons why a recall was not ordered.
The first was that it would have allegedly been very difficult to identify which exact brand of the cheeses were contaminated because there were a total of 60 that were produced in the cheese-making firms where the outbreak originated.
The second was that by the time the authorities found out where the outbreak had come from, the contaminated cheeses had already been consumed and the new batches in the cheesemakers’ premises were not infected.
“It is perhaps due to these two factors that this contamination was not in the media, even though all the data was public nothing was hidden,” said Fany Molin of the DGAL food agency.