Acting on instructions from local agent of French dairy giant Lactalis and the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BFSA), local distributors of the company's baby milk formula are scrambling to recall units sold in the Bangladesh market as a precaution against salmonella contamination.
According to a BFSA source who spoke on condition of anonymity, and JS International, the local agent of Lactalis, French health authorities concluded 620 batches of the company's products had to be recalled and banned for consumption and export, equating to almost 7,000 tons of goods.
Fourteen importing countries, including Bangladesh, were alerted in this regard.
Lactalis believes the contamination happened at one of its drying towers in north-west France in early May, 2017. As a precaution, it has decided to recall all products manufactured at the site since February 15, 2017 and has shut down the relevant facilities for cleaning and disinfection.
On being alerted by the International Network of Food Safety Authorities (INFOSAN), BFSA relayed the information to the Chittagong Port Authority, Customs and the National Revenue Board, one of the earliest agencies encountered by imported goods for tax purposes, and asked them to prevent milk formula produced by Lactalis under the brand names Baby Care 1, Baby Care 2, Baby Care 3, Baby Care MF, Milumel, Picot and Celia, from entering Bangladesh.
Two godowns used by the local agent to store the products have also been sealed, said Jawadul Haque, partner of JS International.
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Upon confirmation of the risk by INFOSAN and Lactalis early last month, BFSA on December 14 made a public announcement through different newspapers and ordered the local distributors to recall the product from the market.
According to sources, since last July, four batches of milk powder produced by Lactalis were prevented from gaining entry into Bangladesh’s market, but another four made it through.
Some 24-25,000 thousand cartons (each carton containing 24 units) have thus been imported through these four batches, of which half was distributed in the market, and out of that 30% made it into the hands of consumers, claimed JS International.
That means 3600 cartons, or 86,400 units of the potentially harmful baby formula have already been sold.
Health authorities in France have said 26 infants in the country came down with salmonella in early December after consuming Lactalis products, according to the BBC. They are said to have since recovered.
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 elderly because of the risk of dehydration.
No case of salmonella poisoning has been reported as yet in Bangladesh, according to JS International. Nevertheless, distributors are recalling the products on their own and sending them back to the local agent.
Stating the presence of salmonella bacteria in baby formula as "severely harmful for public health", scientist and member of BFSA Manjur Morshed Ahmed told UNB that consumers, parents and children doctors have to be advised to avoid the products.
As Bangladesh is one of the largest markets for baby formula, BFSA published the public statement to stop the importation and consumption of the products following the Food Safety Act, 2013.