Three E. coli outbreaks were reported in England earlier this year with two linked to dairy farms.

The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) helped the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) investigate Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) O103, O145, and O26 outbreaks between July and September.

The E. coli O26 outbreak also involved cryptosporidium and began in the previous quarter. There were 11 cases of cryptosporidium and two people also had confirmed E. coli O26.

Cryptosporidium cases visited an open farm attraction during the incubation period of their illness. STEC cases had links to the same premises.

Health officials visited and advised on actions that would improve hygiene for visitors and reduce potential exposure to the pathogens.

APHA collected fresh feces samples in the O103 and O145 incidents, from the yard where the cows had been prior to milking. In both cases, the outbreak strain was not detected.

Cheese and milk links
The STEC O103 outbreak with 11 cases was associated with soft, raw milk cheese from a dairy farm in the East of England. An investigation pointed to brie-like unpasteurized soft cheese being contaminated sometime during spring.

The site also sold unpasteurized, raw milk through an on-farm vending machine, however, there were no food safety concerns with this product, and sales were allowed to continue.

Following microbiological and epidemiological investigations it was judged there was enough epidemiological information to link the outbreak to soft cheese produced by the farm.

Pasteurization was put in place for the production of the soft cheese, HACCP processes were reviewed, and enhanced control measures were put in place. There have been no further cases and the outbreak has been declared over.

The STEC O145 outbreak with 10 patients was linked to the consumption of milk products from a dairy farm in North West England, with illness onset from mid-July. Investigations identified an issue with pasteurization and problems with the cleaning and storage of milk crates which made external contamination of packaging plausible.

Advice by officials included improvements for on-farm pasteurization and optimizing cleaning and storage of milk crates.

The outbreak strain was not detected in cattle feces samples but negative laboratory results did not rule the dairy farm out as the source. It was concluded there was adequate epidemiological information to link it to the outbreak. Improvements were then made, especially in the HACCP processes and other control measures.

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