Baby milk producer Lactalis and health authorities have ordered an international recall after it emerged products may be contaminated with salmonella.
The French company told AFP that “nearly 7,000 tonnes” of production may have been contaminated, but it is not clear how much of this is on the market or has already been bought and consumed.
The recall follows 26 cases of children in France falling ill since the start of December.
Britain, China, Greece, Iraq and Pakistan are among the countries affected by the recall.
Lactalis is one of the biggest producers of dairy products in the world, selling baby milk in packets ranging from 350g to 950g. Its products are marketed under brand names including Milumel, Picot and Celi.
Salmonella symptoms include diarrhoea, stomach cramps, vomiting and fever. It takes an average of 12 to 72 hours for symptoms to develop after swallowing an infectious dose. Most people recover without treatment but young children and the elderly are at greater risk of becoming seriously ill.
Reports of 20 sick children under the age of six emerged in France on December 2. All the victims have since recovered.
Lactalis initially recalled 12 products but France’s economic ministry said on Sunday that the measures put in place by the company were “not sufficient to manage the risk of contamination”. As a result, a wider recall has been ordered.
A factory in the north-western town of Craon is believed to be the source of the outbreak and all products made there since February 15 have been recalled.
In 2008, the baby milk industry was rocked by a scare in China, where manufacturers were found to be bulking products with an industrial chemical. Six babies died and around 300,000 fell ill as a result.