Errington Cheese maintains innocence after E. coli report findings

By Joseph James Whitworth contact

- Last updated on GMT

Dunsyre Blue was linked to an E. coli O157 outbreak last year
Dunsyre Blue was linked to an E. coli O157 outbreak last year

Related tags: E. coli, Cheese, Errington cheese

A report into an E. coli O157 outbreak in Scotland has reiterated Dunsyre Blue as the source while Errington Cheese has insisted there is no microbiological evidence for this conclusion.

The report concluded the cheese was the outbreak source which sickened 26 and hospitalised 17 people.

Two cases developed hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS) and one, a three year old child, died.

The same strain of E. coli O157 was identified between July and mid-September 2016.

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

Cheese was banned from sale in September last year but the firm has recently been permitted to put Lanark Blue cheese on the market.

Errington Cheese: Investigation concerns remain

Errington Cheese said its concerns regarding the investigation remain.

We believe that more detailed investigations into the cause of the outbreak are needed. This is particularly in relation to those cases where HPS were unable to find any direct link to Dunsyre Blue​.

“There is no microbiological evidence that Dunsyre Blue caused the outbreak – all they have concluded is that raw milk cheese carries a small risk of STEC which is already well recorded in scientific literature; there has been no highly pathogenic STEC found in any of our products, nor anything found linking our cheese to the outbreak.”

Testing of Dunsyre Blue and other unpasteurised cheeses made by Errington Cheese identified shiga toxin producing E. coli (STEC) and stx ​negative E. coli O157 but they were not the outbreak strain.

Errington Cheese sourced its cows’ milk from Auchmeddan Farm, Lesmahagow and collected ewes’ milk from the bulk tank at A&S Cairns.

Samples of raw cows’ milk taken months after production of the implicated cheese identified two different strains of STEC.

Following the outbreak, the firm has revised its food safety management system to include raw milk testing for E. coli O157 (every batch) and STEC (quarterly).

FSS: Decisions based on public health

Geoff Ogle, Food Standards Scotland chief executive, said all decisions were taken with the aim of protecting public health.

“Food Standards Scotland is satisfied that the evidence and conclusions presented in this report fully support and justify the decisions that we took to protect consumers,” ​he said.

“This report should allay any concerns with regards to our decisions and assure others that our actions were evidence based. That will always be the case.”

Errington Cheese said the report​ confirmed its fears that blue cheese was the only foodstuff considered from an early stage.

“We appreciate that FSS has a difficult role to play and must give priority to protecting the public and we accept that recalling the two initial batches was appropriate under the precautionary principle. 

“However, we believe that once samples of these two batches of Dunsyre Blue tested negative for E. coli O157, the Incident Management Team should have looked at other food stuffs and potential sources of transmission.”

Actalia, a 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 this method is not suitable in every country and the UK applies a different approach to identify a wider range of strains.

Health Protection Scotland (HPS) published the report on behalf of the Incident Management Team (IMT).

Dr Alison Smith-Palmer, chair of the IMT, said: “The report describes the detailed epidemiological, microbiological, food and environmental investigations and concludes that Dunsyre Blue cheese was the source of this outbreak. It also presents lessons learned and recommendations for improvement.”

Related topics: Regulation & Safety, Cheese

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