Buitoni pizzas: concern after severe cases of infection linked to bacteria

Buitoni brand frozen pizzas are in the sights of the authorities after the hospitalization of children for serious kidney disease.

Two children have died and dozens more have been hospitalized in recent months. Analyzes have confirmeda link between several cases and the consumption of frozen pizzas from the Fraîch’Up range of the Buitoni brand contaminated with Escherichia coli bacteria“, announced Wednesday the health authorities, while a massive recall of these pizzas was launched two weeks ago. In total, according to the last count established on Wednesday, 41 serious cases have been identified and 34 additional are being evaluated, where 100 to 160 cases are usually notified each year in France. The first alert was launched at the end of February, the health authorities then evoking “an increase in the number of cases of haemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS) and serious infection with Escherichia colireported since early February 2022”.

From the first cases, the important surveillance and investigation system set up by France since 1996 was set in motion. Hospitals are indeed invited to declare to Public Health France each case of SHU, and to start an investigation to try to know the origin. A sample of the patient’s stool must be sent to the National Reference Center, in Robert Debré, for the search for the bacterium Escherichia coli, and if a particular food is suspected, a sample of it must likewise be sent to the Laboratory for the study of pathogenic food micro-organisms, in Lyon. In mid-March, Buitoni pizzas were suspected and a recall of products operated from March 18. Since, “epidemiological, microbiological and traceability analyzes have confirmed a link” with “several cases”authorities said on Wednesday.

“Very quickly, our colleagues noticed that they were seeing more cases than usual, but also they were more severe. »

Pr Olivia Gillion-Boyer, nephro-pediatrician at Necker Hospital in Paris (AP-HP).

“Very quickly, our colleagues noticed that they were seeing more cases than usual, but also they were more severe”, testifies Professor Olivia Gillion-Boyer, nephro-pediatrician at the Necker hospital, in Paris (AP-HP). HUS is a rare but serious condition that primarily affects the kidneys and is usually linked to intestinal infection with certain strains ofEscherichia coli. This bacterium “colonizes us all at birth and is normally absolutely non-pathogenic”explains the Pr Eric Oswald, Inserm researcher at the Digestive Health Research Institute. But there are pathogenic strains, which have acquired during evolution virulence factors allowing them to colonize particular niches, for example the bladder for strains responsible for urinary tract infections. In the case of HUS, bacteria produce “a toxin called ‘Shiga-toxin’, which diffuses through the body and targets the endothelial cells that line our blood vessels, leading to destruction of micro-vessels”.

The best known reservoir of these bacterial strains is the digestive tract of cows. The bacterium is not pathogenic for them, but their meat, their milk, but also their environment can be contaminated by their stools. “The infectious dose in the most sensitive child is 500 bacteria, that’s very little! says Eric Oswald. There may therefore be enough left over if the initial load is very high, or if the cooking is insufficient. The researcher also points out that there are other reservoirs of the bacteria that are less known than the bovine reservoir. Thus the epidemic which, in 2011, had led to nearly 3,000 poisonings and caused 30 deaths in Europe: organic sprouted seeds were at the origin… This had mainly affected adults but “UHS usually affects children, and we don’t really know why”, notes Olivia Gillion-Boyer. It is therefore necessary, underline the doctors, to ensure that the most fragile, in particular children under 5 years of age (see beyond) do not eat undercooked meat, raw milk or raw milk cheeses, and wash hands carefully after touching cattle or playing in a potentially contaminated environment; vegetables that may have been watered with contaminated water should also be washed thoroughly. “The cause of the infection is the ingestion of contaminated food in two thirds of cases, human-to-human transmission (in the family or at school) in 20% of cases, the ingestion of contaminated water (in a drink or while swimming) in 12%, and direct contact in 2%”specifies Olivia Gillion-Boyer.

Mucous and bloody diarrhea

some children “remain completely asymptomaticindicates the Pr Gillion Boyer. But others have bloody mucous diarrhea and of these, 30% will develop HUS.” It should therefore be considered in any child who has suffered from this type of diarrhoea, especially if he then presents signs that may indicate destruction of red blood cells (pallor or, on the contrary, jaundice, shortness of breath, abnormal fatigue, etc.) or platelets ( small red or brown spots on the skin – “petechiae” -, nosebleeds). HUS mainly affecting the kidneys, dark, foamy urine or difficulty urinating should also alert. At last, “Antibiotics should be avoided after this diarrhea because, by killing the bacteria, they will promote the release of toxins”specifies the doctor, and avoid drugs that slow transit (antidiarrheals) because this hinders the rapid elimination of the bacteria.

At Nestlé, the Swiss owner of the brand’s pizzas and sauces, the production lines at the Caudry site (Hauts-de-France), which employs 200 people, have been stopped. The blow is hard for Nestlé, whose Buitoni pizzas represent one in three pizzas sold in French supermarkets. The Fresh Up represent only a very small part of the Swiss group’s 85 billion euros in turnover, but despite Nestlé’s immediate reaction, the impact in terms of image may well affect the entire brand. “See even on the whole pizza section”, deciphers a consumer specialist. In Caudry, Nestlé produces between 170,000 pizzas per week (including 70,000 Fresh up), in a market that has been in good shape for three years.

“We have no indication from the health authorities on the severity or the number of cases attributed to the consumption of these pizzas. »

Pierre-Alexandre Teulié, Managing Director of Nestlé France.

Alerted in the middle of the month by the health authorities of the existence of a contaminated pizza – unopened – in the refrigerator of a sick family, Nestlé carried out nearly 75 self-checks, but found nothing: “We keep lookingsupports Pierre-Alexandre Teulié, CEO of Nestlé France. We do not deny that there may be a link (…) but we have not found the possible source of contamination. And we have no indication from the health authorities on the severity or the number of cases attributed to the consumption of these pizzas”. The Directorate General for Competition, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Prevention, for its part, claims to have found among the families and the manufacturer “several contaminated pizzas”but refuses to give more details, the investigation being in progress.

SEE ALSO – E.coli bacteria: health authorities confirm a link with Buitoni pizzas


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