FSS releases info on E. coli O157 outbreak linked to Errington Cheese

By Joseph James Whitworth contact

- Last updated on GMT

Errington Cheese drops judicial review; FSS publishes risk assessment

Related tags: E. coli, Cheese, Milk

Errington Cheese has dropped a judicial review against Food Standards Scotland (FSS) but it can still not sell product.

The firm said it started the process because it was ‘unlawful’ for FSS to have ordered the destruction of cheeses in mid-September and it believed it was ‘a matter of fairness’ for the agency to share evidence they had been relying on.

FSS said it had not agreed to pay legal costs in full – a claim made by Errington Cheese - but just expenses in connection with raising the judicial review.

The agency has published some of the information behind the decision making process.

Risk assessments made public

Geoff Ogle, chief executive of FSS, said he had seen a number of comments which it does not recognise nor accept.

“We have therefore decided to release the three versions of our risk assessment, each undertaken as new information became available, as well as our final risk management decision document,” ​he said.

FSS E. coli findings

  • Batch F15 Dunsyre Blue - Confirmation of a non-O157 E. coli containing the stx​2 gene (i.e. an STEC) in one sample. In addition, stx ​genes detected by PCR in nine further samples, these would be considered presumptive positive for STEC
  • Batch E24 Dunsyre Blue - Two samples found to be stx​2 positive by PCR, considered presumptive positive for STEC
  • Batch G12 Dunsyre Blue - One sample found to be stx​2 positive by PCR, considered presumptive positive for STEC
  • Batch G14 Lanark White - Confirmation of an E. coli ​O157 stx ​negative organism in one sample
  • Batch H24 Lanark White - One sample stx​2 positive by PCR, considered presumptive positive for STEC

“Reference to recent legal actions should not be about claiming any sort of victory given the consequences of the E. coli​ O157 outbreak.

“There is nothing to celebrate and this was never a vendetta against the rights to make, sell and consume cheese made from raw milk, nor against Errington Cheese. Given all that has happened it is sad to see this being portrayed as such in some quarters.”

Errington Cheese said it was ‘disappointing’ to find how far apart the parties are in terms of understanding the risks, the nature of STEC and the cheese sample tests.

An outbreak of E. coli O157 affected 26 people with 13 hospitalised and the death of a three year old child earlier this year.

It was established that 15 people ate Dunsyre Blue while a few others were not sure what brand of blue cheese they had.

FSS said there was confirmation of two cases with the outbreak MLVA profile and one was known to have eaten Dunsyre Blue cheese.

The firm said it continues to believe that cheese is safe and there is no link between its products and the E. coli O157 phage type 21/28 outbreak.

“We look forward to a constructive meeting with the FSS with the aim of coming to a mutually satisfactory agreement on our stock and production going forward and hope that they will engage with our scientific technical dairy experts,”​ said Errington Cheese.

“This continues to be proving a long and frustrating battle and it continues to be the case that we are currently prevented from selling any cheese by the authorities.”

Positive E. coli from cow milk supplier

South Lanarkshire Council (SLC) is the organisation to which the company must provide assurances that production methods are safe and can give approval for it to recommence, said FSS.

Samples by SLC from several batches of different cheeses produced by Errington Cheese over a four month period tested positive for E. coli O157 and other (non-O157) strains of toxin-producing E. coli. 

Positive results came from five different batches of Dunsyre Blue, Lanark White and Lanark Blue shown to contain E. coli O157, toxin-producing E. coli non-O157, or the stx2 gene and would be considered presumptive positive for STEC.

For Lanark White, there is evidence the same pathogen persisted in the premises for six weeks.

Positive results were also found on cows’ milk taken at the farm that supplied Errington Cheese.

FSS said tests were done by accredited testing labs and results verified by scientists at reference labs in Scotland and England.

Whole genome sequencing is being undertaken at Public Health England.

However, Actalia, a specialist dairy testing lab, reported the E. coli strain found by FSS in an unsold batch of cheese did not have genes that would make it toxic.

Dr Colin Fink, co-founder of Micropathology, asked Actalia to examine Errington’s cheeses.

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

Related topics: Regulation & Safety, Cheese

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