Nestle spokesman Francois-Xavier Perroud said the infant formula had been withdrawn in France, Portugal, Spain and Italy, where the largest amount of two million litres was removed from sale.
The contamination has been traced back to the multinational’s factory in northern Spanish region of Asturias.
Mr Perroud said the company was certain that the chemical found in the recalled milk “did not carry a risk for human health,” however, authorities in Italy said it was not immediately clear if the contaminating substance was toxic.
“We decided to withdraw the milk ourselves after the discovery during a routine check of minute quantities of a chemical used in the ink” on the labels, Mr Perroud added.
The chemical IsopropilThioXantone (ITX) could seep through the carton, made by Dutch packaging company Tetra Pak, when “in proximity” to fatty substances, Mr Perroud advised.
However a company statement stressed that the move was “an extreme precautionary measure” and that “Nestle believes that the level of ITX measured in the tested products does not represent a health risk.”
A spokesman for Italy’s forestry police, an offshoot of the food and agriculture ministry in charge of the Italian recall, said Italy had alerted European authorities about a problem with Nestle milk as early as October 17.
The Italian news agency ANSA reported that a first seizure of two million litres of
‘Nidina’ and ‘Latte Mio’ took place on November 9.
But subsequent analysis showed that all products with an expiration date of September 2006 were affected and Italian authorities said they had ordered 30 million litres of Nestle milk products to be taken off shelves.
Nestle France said the recall would affect 240,000 half-litre cartons of baby milk marketed under the Nidal Novaia brands with expiry dates before June 2006.
Spain’s government food agency (AESA) has revealed that Nestle called a halt to production at its Asturias facility in September and that subsequent production changes meant that the liquid baby milk now on sale in Spain was ‘safe’.