Food Standards Scotland publishes damning report into cheesemaker over E.Coli outbreak

The E.coli outbreak in January saw 13 people admitted to hospital, while a toddler died.
The E.coli outbreak in January saw 13 people admitted to hospital, while a toddler died.
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Food Standards Scotland has published a damning report into the processes of artisan cheesemaker Errington Cheese, saying that the company's manufacturing procedures do not effectively prevent the growth of E.Coli bacteria, which killed a toddler and left 20 other people ill in an outbreak of the bug earlier this year.

The food body said that it was hitting back at claims by Lanark-based Errington that its products had shown no traces of the bacteria in testing and released details of its tests which showed presence of E. coli O157 and for another (non-O157) strain of E. coli.

Yesterday, the cheesemaker, which had its products banned from sale in September, said it will drop legal proceedings against Food Standards Scotland, suggesting that it could come to an agreement with FSS which could potentially lead to the company producing cheese again.

But Geoff Ogle, Chief Executive of FSS said: “Given the understandable level of interest and press coverage regarding the E. coli O157 outbreak linked to products from Errington Cheese Ltd, FSS has taken the decision that it is in the public interest to publish the information that we have used to inform our decision-making with regards to this incident.

“This outbreak led to one fatality and 11 people being hospitalised. This was a major food incident where there was a significant risk to public health, with a tragic outcome."

Errington, which had launched a judicial review against food body FSS, said yesterday that the organisation had presented a "proposal", which it claims recognised that the destruction of its stock earlier this year following the outbreak in July was "unwarranted and unnecessary". It also said FSS had agreed to pay the legal costs of the review.

However FSS said in a statement that Errington's products would "continue to be withheld from the market" and are "regarded as a risk to health".

The company said yesterday: "We are pleased to report that it has now been recognised that the destruction of our cheese was unwarranted and unnecessary and that FSS has finally started to share the evidence which they possess with us.

"Today FSS put a proposal to us asking us to drop our judicial review in return for them agreeing to pay the legal costs of this particular action. In light of the recent change in stance by FSS we have agreed to accept this proposal. Consequently, this particular judicial review will now not proceed."

The FSS report said: "South Lanarkshire Council have concluded that there were serious deficiencies in the FBO systems and in particular there was no testing of incoming raw milk supplies as envisaged by the Specialist Cheesemakers’ Guide, which would help to identify and reject incoming contaminated milk, which could have been anticipated as outlined in FSS’s risk assessment, and has since been demonstrated in the recent sample failures of incoming cows’ milk.
" In addition the current physico-chemical parameters of the cheese during the maturation period do not appear to control, reduce or eliminate any pathogens present incoming raw materials to an acceptable level."

Owner Humphrey Errington, who has laid off 12 staff and mothballed his company indefinitely since all six cheeses were recalled by FSS in September amid allegations that several of the people who fell ill had eaten the company’s Dunsyre Blue cheese, has previously claimed that his cheeses were not linked to the outbreak of the food poisoning bug. Thirteen of those affected by the bacteria, which causes symptoms including diarrhoea, abdominal pain, and fever, were admitted to hospital.

Mr Errington has said he believes that the removal of his products from sale was an attack on raw cheese manufacturing by FSS and insisted that independent testing had not found any risk of E.coli in his cheeses.

Errington said it was currently still banned from selling cheese. FSS said the firm had not yet provided assurances to South Lanarkshire Council that its production methods are safe.

"It continues to be the case that we are currently prevented from selling any cheese by the authorities," it said, adding that it hoped to meet with FSS to discuss its processes. "We continue to fight to re-open our business and to establish the truth of our position."

Food writer Joanna Blythman had launched a crowdfunding campaign to fund legal costs for Errington, garnering support from leading restaurateurs and so far generating more than £15,000.