European food safety lab backs E.coli-linked cheese maker

Claims by a Scottish health agency that cheeses were responsible for an outbreak of E.coli have been rejected by one of Europe's top food safety laboratories.

Food Standards Scotland recalled Errington Cheeses products after E.Coli outbreak.

Food Standards Scotland (FSS) blamed cheeses made by Errington Cheese Ltd for carrying the E.coli O157 strain which caused the death of a three-year-old girl and poisoned 15 adults.

However, the Actalia milk-testing laboratory, which sets safety standards for dairy products across Europe, has challenged the FSS results.

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The lab’s scientists in Geneva found that the strain singled out by FSS in an unsold batch of Errington cheese did not have the genetic make-up that would have made it harmful.

Actalia, a French company with laboratories across Europe, carried out detailed tests on the E.coli strains present in five Errington cheeses, which use raw or unpasteurised milk, and found none of them with the necessary genes.

Ronan Calvez, the microbiologist in charge of the tests, said: “A great deal of cheese consumed in France is made from unpasteurised milk. The laboratories that test the safety of these products are of the very highest microbiological standards, and have developed sophisticated testing regimes to ensure that no bacteria containing harmful toxins are present in any cheese sold.

“Actalia laboratories are confident that no harmful bacteria are present in the five Errington cheeses tested.”

In a statement, the FSS said: “Samples taken by South Lanarkshire council (SLC) from different batches of cheese produced by Errington Cheese Ltd have tested positive for E. coli O157 and for another strain of toxin-producing E. coli.

“The food examiner was of the opinion that the presence of these organisms in food was unsatisfactory and potentially injurious to health and/ or unfit for human consumption. In addition, the Scottish E.coli O157 reference laboratory confirmed that these types of organisms had been implicated in serious human illness in Scotland. Analysis of samples taken by SLC has been carried out using accredited methods in official UK laboratories.”

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