FSS slams council for allowing Errington Cheese product back on market

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Corra Linn. Picture: Errington Cheese
Corra Linn. Picture: Errington Cheese

Related tags E. coli Cheese Escherichia coli

Food Standards Scotland (FSS) has called a local council’s decision to allow certain Errington Cheese products back on the market ‘premature’.

South Lanarkshire Council (SLC) had approved the sale of certain batches of Corra Linn.

FSS said Corra Linn, Dunsyre Blue, Lanark Blue, Lanark White, Maisie’s Kebbuck, Dunsyre Baby and Sir Lancelot cheeses should not be eaten.

Can’t rely on test results alone

The agency said analysis by South Lanarkshire Council on Corra Linn is ‘incomplete’.

SLC applied a testing approach which led to the release of some batches which tested negative for Shiga toxin producing E. coli (STEC).

E. coli

Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), also verocytotoxic producing E. coli (VTEC), can produce one or more cytotoxins, Shiga toxin 1 (stx1) and Shiga toxin 2 (stx2). The eae​ (E. coli attachment effacement) gene encodes the intimin protein. There are different variants of eae​ genes. Stx-producing E. coli that do not have eae​ are rarely associated with severe illness. Detection of stx gene(s) is considered a ‘presumptive positive’ until an E. coli is isolated and cultured.

FSS said relying on testing results in isolation cannot provide sufficient assurance that the cheese was produced safely as E. coli can be unevenly spread and it is possible to get positive and negative results for the same batch.

Cheese was banned from sale in September after an E. coli O157 outbreak phage type (PT21/28) last year which sickened 26 people and led to the death of a three year old child.

FSS established 15 people ate Dunsyre Blue and 19 of 22 confirmed cases ate blue cheese prior to becoming ill.

SLC was considering a proposal to allow Dunsyre Blue to be placed on the market on the condition that it is clearly labelled as a raw ingredient which requires to be cooked.

Court hearing planned

Errington Cheese believes products are safe and there was no link between them and the outbreak.

“We are confused by the apparent differences between FSS and SLC because SLC approved the sale of certain batches of Corra Linn. We do not understand why the food alert for action (FAFA) is being used in this way.

“We look forward to the court hearing which has been fixed and which will allow the Sheriff to hear the evidence for and against the cheese and to make a decision regarding its fitness for consumption.

“All we can say before the court hearing is that we do not agree with any of the allegations made against us.”

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

FSS said the method used by Actalia is not considered to be suitable in every country and the UK applies a different approach to identify a wider range of strains.

SLC found the same food safety management system was in place for all seven types of cheese the company produces.

Potentially harmful E. coli was found in three different types of cheese produced from cow’s and sheep’s milk.

SLC seized a batch of Lanark Blue cheese which contained E. coli at the start of the month.

Michael McGlynn, executive director of community and enterprise, said: “To ensure public health we are removing one type of cheese which tests have identified as unsafe and we will seek to put this cheese before a sheriff asking that they be condemned.

“However, we will continue to undertake thorough testing and analysis to determine whether it is appropriate to allow ECL to market the remaining products.”

Health Protection Scotland’s report into the outbreak is likely to be available in March.

Errington Cheese sources all of its cows’ milk from Auchmeddan Farm, Lesmahagow and collects ewes’ milk from the bulk tank at suppliers A&S Cairns.

Related topics Regulation & Safety Cheese

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