Listeria, E.coli, salmonella… What are the risks of manufacturers marketing these products?

All manufacturers are responsible for the products they market. In some cases, even the responsibility of company leaders can be taken on.

In a week, several food items were taken off supermarket shelves due to bacterial contamination. Presence of a dangerous strain of E.coli in Buitoni pizzas, recall of Kinder products following discovery of cases of salmonellosis, suspected listeria contamination in Graindorge brand cheeses (Lactalis group)…

Because food security in Europe has never been so strong, it is mainly an unfortunate coincidence of the calendar. Product recalls are frequent and usually go unnoticed. But the temporality and number of cases are controversial. As for Buitoni pizzas, of the 50 cases of E.coli contamination resulting in hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), 48 were children and two died.

But what risk do these industrialists who market these contaminated products run? It all depends on whether they followed protocol. “It is a widespread and frequent topic. Today, companies are organized and strict when a question of defects in their products arises,” assures Philippe Métais, lawyer in the Commercial Litigation Division of BCLP (Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner).

An administrative component

Food manufacturers are required to perform regular self-checks on their equipment, raw materials and finished products. Nevertheless, it is possible that contaminants are detected. In this case, the producer must immediately recall the products, notify the administration, distributors and consumers.

“An investigation can be opened. The administration and possibly the judicial police will then check whether the entire procedure has been complied with,” explains Maître Philippe Métais.

In case of non-compliance, corrective actions are ordered. “It can also be decided to close a factory, as was the case at Buitoni, because hygiene standards were not respected,” adds Philippe Métais.

The matter can of course go further because the Directorate-General for Health (DGS) and the Directorate-General for Competition, Consumption and Anti-Fraud (DGCCRF), which carry out checks, have police powers.

“After reporting to the prosecutor, he can decide whether or not to sue the company. There is a whole range of possible criminal offenses: intentional injuries, endangering the lives of others, aggravating deception,” explains. master Philippe Métais from .

A search was also ordered by the gendarmerie on Wednesday at the Buitoni factory where the Buitoni pizzas were made, under the responsibility of the Paris prosecutor’s office, which opened an investigation.

A personal responsibility of the leaders

The criminal liability of the company can be incurred just like that of the head of the company. In the case of minced steaks contaminated with E.coli sold at Lidl in 2003, the quality manager of the company SEB, which manufactured these products, and its manager were prosecuted.

The manager was sentenced to 3 years in prison, 1 year of which was probation, and a fine of 50,000 euros for “involuntary injury due to apparent willful breach of a security obligation”. The investigation revealed that he preferred not to carry out a specific check for the dangerous E.coli bacteria in his factory, which was considered too expensive compared to the detection of the generic E.coli bacteria.

His personal responsibility was thus taken on. He was also ordered to compensate all civil parties for an amount of more than 800,000 euros in damages, because the victims are entitled to full compensation for the damage.

These convictions are rare. The salmonella-contaminated Lactalis milk case that took place in 2018 has still not gone to trial. Since the detention of the company’s CEO and 15 of his employees, in December 2019, no charges have been filed. The victims are still awaiting a verdict.

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