E. coli O157 incident management team reconvenes as further cases identified

Publication Date: 15 September 2016

The multi-agency Incident Management Team (IMT) established to investigate a national outbreak of E. coli O157 associated with Dunsyre Blue cheese has been reconvened today as two further confirmed cases with the same outbreak strain have been identified. These further cases brings the total to 22 confirmed cases linked to the outbreak.

Chair of the IMT, Dr Alison Smith-Palmer said:

“Our epidemiological investigations have identified Dunsyre Blue cheese as the most likely cause of the outbreak. To date, the IMT has established that 19 of the 22 confirmed cases had eaten blue cheese prior to becoming ill. Of these, 15 are known to have eaten Dunsyre Blue while others cannot be certain about the brand of blue cheese they have consumed. Investigations are ongoing on the other cases.

“During investigations of this nature, the organism causing the outbreak is not always identified from the implicated food as the food consumed by cases is often not available for testing as illness can occur weeks after the food has been eaten. In addition, not all those who have eaten an implicated product will become ill because the organism is not always evenly distributed throughout the product. The IMT has considered all the information available to them, and continue to be of the view that Dunsyre Blue remains the most likely cause of the outbreak.

“As part of the investigations carried out by South Lanarkshire Council and Food Standards Scotland on behalf of the IMT, a large number of cheese samples have been taken as well as other investigations conducted. These have identified a number of different cheeses produced by Errington Cheese Ltd containing organisms with the potential to cause serious illness including O157 E. coli and toxin producing non-O157 E. coli. Based on these findings, Food Standards Scotland has issued a food safety alert to withdraw all cheeses produced by the company. Food Standards Scotland is advising all consumers who have purchased any cheeses produced by Errington Cheese Ltd not to consume them, and to return the products to where they purchased them.

“In view of these developments, the IMT has been reconvened and will be meeting on a regular basis to review and consider all information as it becomes available to protect public health.”

NHS Tayside Health Protection Team and Angus Council are currently investigating cases of E. coli O157 infection affecting a small number of children in the Angus area. The IMT are in contact with those managing this investigation and initial information suggests that there may be a link to the national outbreak and investigations are ongoing.

The multi-agency IMT includes representatives of Food Standards Scotland, NHS boards and local authority environmental health teams and is chaired by Health Protection Scotland.

The IMT will not be making any further statement at the moment.

Notes to Editors

Food Standards Scotland have issued a Food Alert for Action for Errington Cheese Ltd to withdraw from sale all cheese produced by the company and to withhold from sale any products not yet on the market. Food Standards Scotland and South Lanarkshire Council continue to investigate food safety with Errington Cheese Ltd. Actions will continue to be determined by what is necessary to protect public health and the interests of consumers. It is the legal responsibility of food businesses to produce safe food. Food businesses are required to take all reasonable steps to ensure that all hazards and risks are identified in the production of their products and that the food they produce is safe. Those reasonable steps need to be taken before any product is placed on the market. The responsibility of all food business is to ensure that appropriate measures are taken to prevent contamination and ensure the food they place on the market is safe to eat. Food Standards Scotland: Food Alert for Action for Errington Cheese Ltd.

People can become unwell with E. coli O157 infection after eating food or drinking water that is contaminated with the faeces from infected animals, or from contact with animals or their environments. Fruit and vegetables can be contaminated if they come in contact with soil, animal faeces or manure or water which contains VTEC. Person to person spread can also occur.

Symptoms associated with E. coli O157 include stomach cramps, diarrhoea (often bloody), vomiting and occasionally fever. Some people show few or no symptoms and for the majority of people the illness resolves within 5 - 10 days.

The risk of E. coli O157 infection can be reduced by careful hand washing, especially after contact with animals, after going to the toilet and immediately before preparing or eating food; making sure that food is always properly handled and prepared. Advice on food safety is available on the Food Standards Scotland website at: http://www.foodstandards.gov.scot/food-safety-standards/food-safety-hygiene.

Vulnerable groups including pregnant women, children and the elderly should not consume unpasteurised milk and dairy products such as cheese made from unpasteurised milk due to the increased risk of food poisoning.

Anyone developing symptoms, including bloody diarrhoea, or who is concerned about their symptoms, should contact their GP or telephone NHS 24 on 111 for advice.

Of the confirmed cases associated with this incident, 13 have required hospitalisation. To protect patient confidentiality the IMT will not discuss any details of these patients ie age, gender or location.

Given the on-going investigations by the Procurator Fiscal’s office surrounding the circumstances of the death linked to this outbreak, it would not be appropriate for the IMT to make any further comments on that case.