Cheese recall sparks claim of FSS ‘crusade’

Listeria bacteria was found in some batches of Loch Arthur's cheese.

Listeria bacteria was found in some batches of Loch Arthur's cheese.

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Campaigners have warned of an “ongoing crusade” against raw milk cheese after a second Scottish cheesemaker was forced to withdraw its artisan products by the authorities amid fears over a food poisoning bug.

The entire stock of Crannog and Killywhan cheese were recalled on Wednesday night by the Loch Arthur Creamery at the Camphill community in Dumfries after Food Standards Scotland (FSS) said listeria monocytogenes - which can be dangerous to vulnerable groups such as young children and pregnant women - had been found in certain batches of the products.

The withdrawal comes just months after Lanark-based Errington Cheeses was forced to destroy all of its stock of unpasteurised cheeses amid claims they were linked to an E.coli outbreak which killed a three year old girl and left others hospitalised. Errington has insisted that independent testing has not found harmful bacteria in its products.

Campaigners supporting Errington Cheeses have claimed that FSS wants to prevent raw cheese production, with more than £20,000 now raised in a crowdfunding campaign to pay for legal costs to fight the decision to withdraw the company’s products.

Scottish food author Joanna Blythman, who launched the crowdfunding campaign said: “I do not know the detail of this particular case, but I am concerned that this is another manifestation of Food Standards Scotland and Health Protection Scotland’s ongoing crusade against raw milk cheese, which is concentrated on the basis of flawed science and entrenched prejudice.”

Humphrey Errington, owner of Errington Cheeses, added: “Loch Arthur, having found the presence of listeria, acted responsibly in recalling the batch that was implicated. Then FSS recalled all of the cheese, which was completely out of proportion. It is just ridiculous.”

It is the third time that the Loch Arthur Creamery has had to withdraw a cheese due to the presence of listeria in the past five years - with its Criffel brand taken off sale twice in 2013 and 2014. The bug can cause symptoms including vomiting and diarrhoea, as well as high temperature and muscle aches. While most people usually make a full recovery, in rare cases, the infection can be more severe, causing serious complications, such as meningitis.

A spokesman for Loch Arthur said that the company had initially withdrawn only the specific batch which contained the bacteria - but that its entire stock had been forcibly recalled by FSS. It is understood that the levels of the bacteria found in the products was very low.

He said: “Routine testing carried out recently as part of our food safety system, indicated the presence of a low level of Listeria in a small number of batches of our Crannog cheese. We immediately reported this to the Environmental health Department at Dumfries and Galloway Council.

“We followed our documented procedures to deal with this issue and accordingly initiated a product recall on the affected cheese. As a precautionary measure, we have now extended that recall to all batches of Loch Arthur Creamery’s Crannog and Killywhan cheese. We have halted production of these cheeses for the time being.”

Killywhan, a Dutch-style cow’s milk cheese, is Loch Arthur’s newest cheese, created after the creamery decided to stop production of its Criffel and Kebbuck cheeses after the listeria scare in 2014 - while Crannog was given a bronze award at last year’s Royal Highland Show.

The Loch Arthur Creamery, which was established in 1985 and supplies shops throughout Scotland, is part of the Camphill Community, which provides a “shared community” for people with special needs and volunteers, living as part of regular families in group homes. It has become well established as a cheesemaker and many of its products have won accolades from various national competitions.

The company’s Farmhouse Cheese, cream cheese and yoghurts are not affected.

A spokesman for FSS said: "Food Standards Scotland (FSS) can confirm that there is no ‘crusade’ against raw milk cheese produce. Ready-to-eat foods such as cheese, must be compliant with EU regulations.

"This incident was reported to Dumfries and Galloway local authority by the Loch Arthur Creamery following the company’s own testing. This is a precautionary measure taken by the company because Listeria monocytogenes has been detected in batches of both products."

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