MILK powder used by 25,000 British babies has been withdrawn from sale after 10 children were found to have a rare form of salmonella food poisoning.
Thousands of parents called the telephone helpline set up by the manufacturer, Milupa, yesterday, although a link between Salmonella anatum and Milumil "for Hungrier Bottle-Fed Babies", made in France, has not been proved.Mothers are being told to stop using the product immediately and not to use the measuring scoops that they have previously used for the milk powder.
Sir Kenneth Calman, the Chief Medical Officer, issued a Food Hazard Warning yesterday and all GPs, health visitors and community nurses have been informed. Later yesterday the product was also suspended in Ireland.
Milupa stressed that the move was a precaution. "There is concern. Mothers want information." The company has stopped the production line at its factory in Colmar, Alsace, and the milk powder will be withdrawn while tests are carried out. No other Milupa product is affected.
The food poisoning was isolated by British Government scientists and the Health Department immediately ordered thousands of the 900g and 450g packs be taken off shelves. Sir Kenneth said that 12 babies under six months, from Scotland, Yorkshire, the Midlands and the South East had been found to have the form of salmonella and 10 of them had been given the Milumil product. The three Scottish babies came from the Aberdeen area. Two babies were taken to hospital and one was admitted. The other babies were nursed at home and all have recovered, Sir Kenneth said. The first case was identified in October and the last, earlier this month.
"The product is made in France and comes to Britain and Ireland," said Sir Kenneth. "It may take some time to make a link between the product and the organism. But we are dealing with a particularly vulnerable group of infants, under six months of age. This is an unusual organism and not common at all. It has an incubation period of three to seven days."
Dr Chris Bartlett, director of the Public Health Laboratory Communicable Diseases Surveillance Centre said there were normally about 50 cases of Salmonella anatum in the UK each year, but usually in adults. "We started an investigation and interviewed all the mothers about all the foods and drinks their babies had."
Another 40 well babies were investigated for comparison. Three of these had been fed with the Milumil. A spokesman for the Public Health Laboratory said the advice to parents was to be vigilant, but not to panic. The strain was not one of the most dangerous. "However, any salmonella infection in a small baby can be serious because the risk of them becoming de-hydrated is that much greater. But we are not talking about a superbug or a deadly virus here.
"Parents should be vigilent and look for signs of illness if they have been feeding them with Milumil - diarrhoea, vomiting, fever and so on. If they spot these, they should contact their GP."
Another Milupa product, Milumil Ready to Feed, is not affected. The Hungrier Babies brand is a "heavier" infant feed based on casein, the curdy part of milk. Alternatives included Cow & Gate Plus, SMA White, and Farleys Second Milk.
Mothers who receive benefit and milk tokens will be able to swap the milk powder for an alternative, the Health Department said. If their clinic is not open they will be refunded for an alternative bought in a shop.
Dr Dennis Segal, managing director of Milupa, said at a press conference in London yesterday: "Milupa is deeply concerned about the well-being of babies and we'll be taking all the necessary steps to resolve this issue."
Yesterday the company contacted the French health department and invited its inspectors into the factory.
"Milupa has set up an internal task force to investigate this incident, working closely with the Health Department and other experts. The company would like to stress that its rigorous testing procedures have never shown the slightest sign of contamination. There is no confirmatory evidence that the factory is the source."
Milupa's helpline number is 0345 623600.
Mothers 'will not stop using powdered product'
Baby milk banned in poison fear
By Kate Watson-Smyth
Daily Telegraph; 25th January 1997