Food Standards Scotland (FSS) has issued a statement on its involvement with a multi-agency Incident Management Team (IMT), chaired by Health Protection Scotland, which had been investigating an outbreak of E. coli O157 in Scotland.
FSS announced that the team “has stood down” as of Sept. 5, when it declared the outbreak over, and that FSS is now working with South Lanarkshire Council in continuing its food safety investigations.
Previously, it was reported that the team was still in charge of the investigation and was not declaring the outbreak over.
The outbreak involves 20 confirmed cases of E. coli O157:H7, 11 of which required hospitalization and one that FSS said involves the “sad death of a child,” whose family has asked for complete privacy.
“The family’s right to privacy has been respected throughout the investigation and FSS trusts that the media will continue to respect that privacy,” the FSS statement read. No information about the child’s identity has been released.
During the outbreak, FSS stated that two batches of Dunsyre Blue cheese were implicated based on epidemiological evidence and that they were voluntarily recalled from sale by Errington Cheese Ltd. on July 28. The daughter of the company’s founder, however, claims no DNA testing has confirmed the epidemiological report.
FSS noted that it has acted as part of a multi-agency team, which has not been drawn into the public speculation and debate that the outbreak has generated. The now-disbanded IMT focused on investigating the outbreak. The IMT’s priority was public safety, and all of its decisions and actions were taken on that basis, according to the statement.
The agency’s statutory duty is to protect public health, and FSS stated that it fully recognizes the importance of the food sector to Scotland’s economy.
“It is a flourishing sector and key to that is trust that what is being produced is safe and fit for human consumption,” FSS stated.
One of the key objectives of the agency, as set out in its recently published Strategy to 2021 – Shaping Scotland’s Food Future, is to enable responsible businesses to flourish. Proportionality is always a key part of FSS’s considerations — to ensure fairness to businesses and also to ensure that consumers are given information upon which they can choose to act, the agency stated.
During the course of the investigation, FSS issued one public recall information notice following Errington Cheese Ltd.’s voluntary recall of its Dunsyre Blue cheese, which is made with unpasteurized cow’s milk. This is a standard practice that happens on a regular basis, as can be seen from other product recalls posted on FSS’s website, according to the agency.
It is the legal responsibility of food businesses to produce safe food, FSS stated. 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 agency stated, adding, “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.”
Pasteurization significantly reduces harmful bacteria, including STEC, and that is why FSS advises vulnerable groups, including pregnant women, children and the elderly, not to consume raw, unpasteurized milk and dairy products such as cheese made from unpasteurized milk due to the increased risk of food poisoning.
Raw milk is classed as a high-risk food because it is not pasteurized, the agency noted.
“The focus of effort for FSS and South Lanarkshire Council for the time being is on ensuring that all appropriate controls are in place to protect the safety of consumers. Actions will continue to be determined by what is necessary to protect public health and the interests of consumers,” the FSS statement concluded.
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