The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) was involved in another two E. coli outbreaks in the United Kingdom in the final quarter of 2022.

In the first, APHA helped Public Health Wales investigate two human cases of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) O145 linked to a private collection of animals on a smallholding. Multiple species were onsite including cattle, goats, deer, and pigs. Some food consumed by people was grown in the garden where cattle manure was used. Thirty environmental fecal samples were collected but a match to the outbreak strain was not found.

In the second, APHA visited an open farm at the request of an incident management team following an outbreak of E. coli O157 in people. The outbreak strain was detected in one environmental sample from a pig enclosure. The incident is ongoing so it is unclear how many people are sick. The advice was provided to reduce the risk to the public by making improvements to the supervision of animal contact, enhancing handwashing facilities, and improving some animal exhibits.

In all of 2022, APHA was part of five E. coli investigations. The agency helped the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) investigate E. coli O103, O145, and O26 outbreaks between July and September.

The E. coli O26 outbreak also involved cryptosporidium. There were 11 cases of cryptosporidium and two people had confirmed E. coli O26. Cryptosporidium patients had visited an open farm attraction during the incubation period of illness. The E. coli patients had links to the same premises.

The E. coli O103 outbreak with 11 cases was associated with soft, raw milk cheese from a dairy farm in the East of England. Pasteurization was put in place for the production of the soft cheese, HACCP processes were reviewed, and enhanced control measures were taken. 

The E. coli O145 outbreak with 10 patients was traced 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.

Cryptosporidium outbreaks
APHA was involved in three outbreak investigations of human cryptosporidiosis in 2022. All of them were from April to June and associated with open or petting farms. One was in England and two were in Wales.

In the English outbreak mentioned above, two people also had E. coli O26 infections. A visit to the farm by environmental health officers identified issues that increased the risk of exposure to Cryptosporidia such as poor handwashing facilities, direct contact while feeding pet lambs and goats, and poor understanding of and compliance with the industry code of practice.

Feces samples were collected by an environmental health officer from 15 different animal group areas on the farm but they were negative for Cryptosporidium, making a definitive epidemiological link between patients and the farm visits difficult, said officials.

In 2022, the detection of Coxiella burnetii in a bovine bulk milk sample from an English dairy farm at an overseas laboratory was reported to APHA. However, follow-up revealed no concerns, said the agency.

Strike disruption
The Public and Commercial Service (PCS) union also announced industrial action this month that impacted APHA.

Services delivered by the agency’s Centre for International Trade Team in Bristol and Carlisle were affected, including the provision of certification, licenses, and expert advice on imports and exports of animals and animal products.

PCS said strike action at APHA is believed to have caused delays for imports and exports, including caviar, plants, birds of prey, tortoises, and reptiles.

“Ministers should be ashamed that while some members of society are bemoaning a lack of caviar on their dinner plates, 40,000 of their own workforce are using foodbanks. Our members should not be forced to choose between heating and eating – they should be paid a fair wage for the important work they do,” said a PCS spokesperson.

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