Errington Cheese welcomes Actalia’s E. coli findings

By Joseph James Whitworth contact

- Last updated on GMT

Dunsyre Blue cheese was linked to an E. coli outbreak earlier this year
Dunsyre Blue cheese was linked to an E. coli outbreak earlier this year

Related tags: E. coli, Escherichia coli

Errington Cheese has welcomed findings from a specialist dairy testing lab that its cheeses did not contain E. coli O157 implicated in an outbreak which sickened more than 20 people.  

Actalia said the E. coli strain found by Food Standards Scotland (FSS) in an unsold batch of cheese did not have genes that would have made it toxic.

Dr Colin Fink, co-founder of Micropathology, went to Actalia to examine Errington’s cheeses after publications from FSS ‘worried’ him as they didn’t appear to ‘stack up’.

Dr Fink told BBC Radio Scotland (from 1h47​) he was asked to recommend someone to test the cheese independently, and when it was decided they could not do it as well as Actalia, the material was passed onto them.

He added Actalia found a strain of E. coli in one cheese sample but it was not the same one implicated in the outbreak.

FSS said an outbreak of E. coli O157 affected 22 people with 13 hospitalised and the death of a three year old child.

It established 15 people were known to have eaten Dunsyre Blue while others were not sure what brand of blue cheese they ate.

Shiga toxin producing E. coli (STEC) was cultured and isolated from a sample taken from batch F15 of Dunsyre Blue, which was not on the market, and was confirmed as a non-O157 E. coli (STEC).

Legal challenge and FSS statement

Errington Cheese is continuing a legal challenge to overturn the ban on the sale of its products with a judicial review hearing imminent.

After the cheesemaker sought a judicial review, FSS withdrew an order that stocks of Dunsyre Blue cheese should be destroyed.

E. coli

STEC (shiga toxin producing E. coli) is a group of E. coli characterised by its ability to produce toxins, designated shiga toxins (stx1 ​and stx2 ​or its variants). Shiga toxins are also known as verocytotoxins and the terms STEC and VTEC are synonymous.

Errington has laid off its 12-strong workforce and said £350,000 worth of cheese in storage may have to be destroyed if sales are delayed much longer.

A crowdfunding page​, started by Joanna Blythman to cover the company’s legal costs, has raised more than £14,000 of its £50,000 goal.

FSS said samples taken by South Lanarkshire Council (SLC) from different batches produced by Errington Cheese have tested positive for E. coli O157 and another non-O157 strain of toxin-producing E. coli. 

It added the Scottish E. coli O157/VTEC reference lab confirmed these organisms had been implicated in human illness in Scotland.

“Analysis of samples taken by SLC has been carried out using accredited methods in official UK laboratories. All results from these samples were shared with Errington Cheese as soon as they were available,” ​said the agency.

“These findings have been checked and verified by the Scottish E. coli O157/VTEC reference laboratory in Edinburgh. Further confirmatory analysis has been undertaken by UK Gastrointestinal Bacteria Reference Unit at Public Health England...”

No supporting evidence

Humphrey Errington, company founder, said: “We are acutely conscious that a child has died due to the E. coli outbreak over the summer. Our products are being linked to this outbreak by Food Standards Scotland but it has so far failed to provide us with any evidence to support this.

“After lodging our case for a judicial review, FSS has backed down and rescinded its order that the cheese be destroyed, which is tantamount to an admission that they had made a mistake in the first place in ordering destruction.

“We have carried out our own tests using leading laboratories in the UK and Europe and found no trace of E. coli O157.

“Food Standards Scotland say it could take six months to finalise its report but by that time our cheese will have to be destroyed and our business will be finished.”

The multi-agency Incident Management Team (IMT) established to investigate the national outbreak has stood down and is in the process of producing its final report.

FSS and South Lanarkshire Council continue to work with the food business operator.

Related topics: Regulation & Safety, Cheese

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