Errington Cheese ‘the source’ of fatal E.coli outbreak

Errington Cheese's Dunsyre Blue was the source of last year's E.coli outbreak, a report alleged

The source of the Scottish E.coli O157 outbreak last year was Errington Cheese’s Dunsyre Blue raw cheese, a Health Protection Scotland (HPS) report has concluded, but the cheesemaker insists more evidence is needed.

HPS’s report – published on March 29 – claimed numerous tests proved Dunsyre Blue was the cause of the E.coli outbreak in July and September 2016. E.coli was identified in 26 people in July and September 2016; 17 of which were hospitalised. One person – a three-year-old girl – died.

The report said: “Potentially pathogenic E.coli were able to enter and survive the cheese production process at the food business. Positive results were obtained for cheese produced over a period of four months.”

An Incident Management Team (IMT) – commissioned to carry out the investigation by HPS – identified E.coli in cheeses produced over a period of four months. It said Errington Cheese’s processes might have allowed the pathogenic E.coli to survive during production of Dunsyre Blue.

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

The report claimed IMT found other shiga toxin producing E.coli (STEC) in Errington Cheese’s products. While not necessarily the strain of E.coli that was identified in the outbreak, their presence showed that pathogenic E.coli might have survived the production process.

‘A risk to the public’

“Throughout the investigation, the paramount aim of the IMT was the protection of public health,” the report said. “To this end, products considered to pose a risk to the public were withdrawn from the market and the risks communicated to the public and professionals.”

Food Standards Scotland (FSS) said it fully supported the report’s findings. The evidence justified its decision to recall all of Errington Cheese’s products in September, it said.

FSS chief executive Geoff Ogle said: “FSS is satisfied that the evidence and conclusions presented in this report fully support and justify the decisions that we took to protect consumers. All of our decisions and actions were taken with the sole aim of protecting public health.

“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.”

But, Errington Cheese insisted that there wasn’t enough evidence to confirm its Dunsyre Blue raw cheese was the source of the E.coli outbreak last year.

More detailed investigations needed

The South Lanarkshire-based cheese firm said more detailed investigations into the cause of the outbreak were needed, and claimed other sources should have been probed alongside Dunsyre Blue.

An Errington Cheese statement said: “On an initial reading, all of our concerns regarding the investigation into our cheese and the outbreak of illness 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 [HPS and IMT] 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. This is fact.”

The cheese firm claimed it was the only foodstuff considered to be the source of the outbreak from an early stage. The outbreak was linked to mixed salad leaves in the past, but the report failed to mention that, it said.

Errington Cheese called on HPS to let it have access to the evidence relating to its investigation.

 

What they say about the E.coli outbreak:
  • “The report describes the detailed epidemiological, microbiological, food and environmental investigations, and concludes that Dunsyre Blue cheese was the source of this outbreak.”

Dr Alison Smith-Palmer, IMT

  • “There has been no highly pathogenic shiga toxin producing E.coli found in any of our products, nor anything found linking our cheese to the outbreak. This is fact.”

Errington Cheese

  • “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.”

Geoff Ogle, Food Standards Scotland

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