There have been more chapters written in the saga of a Scottish cheesemaker fighting for the survival of its premier brands after they were linked to 22 E. coli illnesses and the death of a 3-year-old girl from Dunbartonshire.
In official action, Food Standards Scotland (FSS) has revised the Food Alert for Action (FAFA), originally issued on Sept. 15, concerning cheese made by Errington Cheese Ltd.
It was the basis for the withdrawal of Errington Cheeses from the marketplace, including Dunsyre Blue and Lanark Blue.
The revised FAFA spells out how the food law deals with withdrawn products considered that are considered a health risk. Errington had filed a petition for judicial review on those issues, but has since withdrawn it.
After Health Protection Scotland, the South Lanarkshire Council, and FSS found in their joint investigation that the Scottish cheese was linked to a July outbreak of E. coli O157:H7, the blanket ban against Errington cheeses was imposed.
However, the action has been surrounded with controversy from the start. Founder Humphrey Errington has insisted there is “no evidence” linking any of the company’s products to the outbreak.
When the company withdrew its petition for judicial review, Errington said the company’s legal bills were being picked up by FSS, a claim denied by the food safety agency.
With the revised FAFA, the FSS released details on risk assessments that were taken as part of the investigation of the “major food incident.”
According to FSA, the revised FAFA clearly reflects the powers that Local Authorities should use under food law to deal with withheld products which are regarded as a risk to health. The agency say this was the focus of the petition lodged by Errington Cheese Ltd. for Judicial Review, and that petition has been dismissed.
The full product withdrawal remains in place and all Errington Cheese Ltd. products continue to be withheld from the market, as they are regarded as a risk to health. The date of the revised FAFA is Nov. 10.
In a statement announcing the revisions, FSS said it does not recognize some of the comments from Errington Cheese Ltd. FSS has not agreed to pay Errington Cheese Ltd’s legal fees in full. FSS has agreed to pay the reasonable judicial expenses incurred in connection with the raising of the judicial review.
Errington Cheese Ltd. has stated that it “believe[s] that our cheese is safe and fit for human consumption.” FSS says samples taken by South Lanarkshire Council (SLC) from different batches of a range of different cheeses produced by Errington Cheese Ltd over a four-month period tested positive for E. coli O157 and for other strains of toxin-producing E. coli. These samples were tested by fully accredited testing laboratories, and the results verified by expert scientists at reference laboratories in Scotland and England. The detection of these organisms in ready to eat food potentially presents a serious risk to human health.
Furthermore, it says South Lanarkshire Council considers that serious deficiencies exist in relation to food safety controls at the premises. Errington Cheese Ltd. has further stated that it “look[s] forward to a constructive meeting with the FSS with the aim of coming to a mutually satisfactory agreement on our stock and production going forward and hope that they will engage with our scientific technical dairy experts.”
Whilst FSS has indicated its willingness to be involved in discussions, South Lanarkshire Council is the organization to which Errington Cheese Ltd. must provide assurances that its production methods are safe and which will give approval for production to recommence, should South Lanarkshire Council be satisfied with those assurances.
FSS understands that production of food by Errington Cheese Ltd. has been halted because South Lanarkshire Council has not agreed a revised food safety management plan and the business cannot re-open until that is agreed.
In September FSS reported the outbreak had sickened 22 people, with 13 admitted to hospitals for treatment. Of the 22, at least 19 ate Errington Dunsyre Blue cheese before becoming sick, according to officials.
For more details on the situation, please see:
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