In a few days, the plate is scary again. Lately, Buitoni-Nestlé pizzas seasoned with bacteria Escherichia coli caused bloody diarrhea and kidney failure. About fifty people affected, mostly children. Two died of it and others are still in a coma. Shortly before, Kinder chocolate eggs and candies were recalled there. Loaded in salmonella, they risked transmitting carabineer gasto-enteritis or, worse, typhoid. Another alert: Lactalis-Graindorge cheeses truffled with bacteria listeria. Contamination that can cause sepsis or meningitis. What to cut the appetite.
The official RappelConso site, which depends on the DGCCRF, publishes daily new alerts on non-compliant products. Since 2021, it has identified nearly 4,400 reports, mainly concerning dairy products and meat. A glance in the rear-view mirror of the kitchen makes it possible to analyze and put into perspective the succession of major food scandals of recent decades.
A long history of food scandals
In 1980, the Peasants-Workers union alerts consumers to the production of veal with hormones in French farms. This practice was banned by the EU in 1988. The following year, in Spain, what was initially thought to be adulterated oil killed more than 20,000 people. Among them, more than a thousand people died and others will remain disabled for life. In fact, the poisoning comes from an organochlorine pesticide spread on tomatoes. Between 1986 and 2000, the “mad cow disease”, caused by the introduction of animal meal in the food of herbivores, is responsible for the death of 223 people and 190,000 cattle. In 1990traces of benzene in the Perrier (a filter problem) triggered the recall of 280 million bottles and ruined the brand.
In 1993, it is the listeria of rillettes sold at Leclerc which kills three people and causes four others to abort. Six years later, in 1999, the European Union warns about the circulation of Belgian chickens and eggs contaminated with dioxin (and PCBs) contained in their food. The scandal of these adulterated foods affects Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and France. The same year, more than 300 people were poisoned in Europe by Coca-Cola containing a fungicide. 90 million liters are destroyed. In 2003the Asian bird flu in Hong Kong, spread to Asia and then to the whole world and is still rife.
Contaminated milk powder, horse lasagna… Buitoni is just the latest in a long list
In 2005, in France, milk powder from Lactalis containing listeria contaminates 140 infants. In 2008, in China infant milk powder is added with melamine to make believe in its richness in proteins. Result: 94,000 patients. Also in 2008, around forty companies (Italian, British, German, Austrian) were involved in a health scandal. They recycled 11,000 tonnes of expired cheese into new cheese products. In 2011a batch of sprouted seeds from Egypt, carrying Escherichia coli triggers an epidemic of gastroenteritis and haemolytic uraemic syndrome in Europe. The same bacteria, the same year, is found in minced steaks sold by Lidl. Fifteen children were affected, one of whom died a few years later.
2013, sees the case of beef lasagna (Findus, Picard) with horse meat. And the same year, broke the scandal of Ikea’s chocolate pies harboring coliform bacteria (living in feces). 2017 is the year of eggs with fipronil (acaricide treatment) in Europe, that also of the return of salmonella in Lactalis, 38 sick babies. In 2020Belgium alerts the EU on sesame seeds from India, treated with ethylene oxide (banned in the food industry).
Read also: Short circuits, a variety of models at the service of food resilience
Industrialization has changed the scale of food poisoning
The history of human food is riddled with ailments, illnesses, poisonings, due to food. The risk of swallowing a poison or a spoiled dish has always existed. But the industrialization of food production has changed the scale of the damage. Hygiene problem, manufacturing accident, human error, proven fraud by greed, if the product is local and artisanal, the identification of the problem is rapid.
To reduce the risks, the manufacturer multiplies asepsis often to the detriment of gastronomic quality. Finally, progress in hygiene and automation has been so great that our fellow citizens accept less and less the idea that they can fall ill while eating.
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