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Cheese maker did not test raw milk for E. coli ; 1 died, 25 fell ill

The owner of Scotland’s Errington Cheese Ltd. told a court this week that her business did not test its products for a harmful strain of E.coli that claimed the life of a 3-year-old child during a 2016 outbreak.

Selina Cairns said her firm did not carry out spot checks on the raw milk used in its cheeses to detect E.coli 0157. The company was linked to the 2016 outbreak that also sickened 25 other people, but the Crown Office declined to pursue criminal proceedings because of a lack of evidence linking the firm to the death of the girl from Dunbartonshire.

No traces of E.coli 0157 were found in cheeses made by Errington, but other types of the bacteria were, which led food safety agencies to name the firm’s as the source of the outbreak.

The company makes a range of products from unpasteurized milk on its farm in Carnwath, Lanarkshire. Environmental workers seized batches of its Lanark Blue and Corra Linn cheeses as a result of the 2016 outbreak.

Now, the firm is locked in a battle with South Lanarkshire Council, which is attempting to have cheese produced by the manufacturer declared unfit for human consumption and destroyed. At a civil hearing at Hamilton Sheriff Court, Cairns said there was conflicting guidance about the need to test for the bug, and that she had been advised it was not necessary, according to a report in The Scotsman newspaper.

“South Lanarkshire Council and Food Standards Scotland said I should have been testing for it and I am obviously testing for it now,” The Scotsman quoted her as saying. “I accept in hindsight it might have been sensible to have tested for it every six months, but I’m not really quite sure how that would have helped.

“In retrospect it’s quite easy to look at things differently. I know a lot of cheese makers in the UK and none of them were testing for E.coli 0157 before the summer of 2016.”

Cairns also said that since the outbreak, the company began including warnings on its raw milk cheeses labels to say they are not safe for children, pregnant women and elderly people.

Workers at Errington Cheese Ltd. work the excess moisture out of cheese curd.

However, she said, she had no control over who ate the cheeses after they were sold to retailers.

“I can’t control what people do with it after the point it leaves me. In most delicatessens, customers speak to the person behind the counter.”

The hearing before Sheriff Robert Weir continues.

Two days before Christmas, the company recalled all batches, all sizes and all date codes of its Dunsyre Blue cheese because the product contained Listeria monocytogenes, Food Safety News reported.

The recall notice put Errington’s Dunsyre Blue back in the news just two months after the Crown decided not to prosecute the company for the product.

On Dec. 12, Errington recalled a single batch (J9) because “routine customer testing” found Listeria monocytogenes in a pasteurized sample. And on Dec. 23, the Food Standards Agency of the United Kingdom and Food Standards Scotland announced that because further testing by Errington found Listeria in other batches, it was all recalled.

Listeria causes symptoms that are much like the flu, including high temperatures, muscle aches, chills and diarrhea. Rare cases of the infection can cause more severe complications, including meningitis. Elderly people, pregnant women and unborn babies, infants and people with weakened immune systems are especially at risk.

Since the Health Protection Scotland report that linked Errington to the E. coli outbreak, it has produced Dunsyre Blue with pasteurized milk on new equipment and has said it spent more than $1 million to restore its name.

Food Standards Scotland’s management of the investigation was criticized for its handling of the probe. Errington is described by some as a pioneer in artisanal cheese-making in Scotland.

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