Carnwath cheese is blamed for fatal E.coli outbreak

Dunsyre Blue
Dunsyre Blue

Errington Cheese’s Dunsyre Blue has been blamed for the E. coli outbreak that claimed the life of a three-year-old girl last year.

That is the conclusion of an official investigation into the deadly outbreak last summer.

A report published by Health Protection Scotland following an investigation carried out by an incident management team while the Carnwath firm’s products were withdrawn from sale blames the cheese, made from unpasteurised cows’ milk, for the E. coli cases.

Some 17 people were admitted to hospital last summer, and the three-year-old girl later died.

The report summary states: “Extensive investigations concluded that the source of the outbreak was the consumption of Dunsyre Blue.

“This conclusion was based on evidence from epidemiological and food chain investigations and supported by microbiological evidence and deficiencies identified in the procedures for the monitoring and control of shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) at the food business.”

However, the artisan cheese business, now selling its Lanark Blue cheese again, disputes those findings and says all of its concerns about the investigation remain.

It has consistently tried to challenge the evidence, and an inquiry is to take place at Lanark Sheriff Court in the coming weeks.

The health protection report, stretching to 101 pages, said that of the 24 primary cases, 15 were known to have consumed Dunsyre Blue cheese beforehand.

“The descriptive epidemiological evidence indicating that Dunsyre Blue was the food vehicle responsible for the outbreak is supported by deficiencies in the procedures for the monitoring and control of pathogenic E. coli at the food business,” the report states.

It adds that testing of its Dunsyre Blue and other unpasteurised cheeses “identified other STEC and toxin-negative E. coli O157, which, although not the outbreak strain, demonstrated that potentially-pathogenic E. coli were able to enter and survive the cheese production process at the food business.”

It states that samples of raw cows’ milk from the farm supplying the business identified two different strains of STEC, indicating the potential for milk used for Dunsyre Blue to become contaminated.

“Furthermore, no evidence was provided to demonstrate how any STEC present in the raw milk supply would have been eliminated during the production process.”

And the report says the probe’s findings are biologically plausible as cattle in Scotland were known to carry that E. coli strain.

But Errington Cheese says: “We believe that more detailed investigations into the cause of the outbreak are needed.

“This is particularly in relation to those cases where Health Protection Scotland was unable to find any direct link to Dunsyre Blue.

“They have now had their chance to present their opinion on what they believe happened.

“We sincerely hope that they will desist from attempting to frustrate our attempts to uncover the facts, particularly in relation to those cases which don’t fit with their hypothesis. We call on them once again, as we did in August 2016, to let us have access to the evidence relating to their investigations.

“There is no microbiological evidence that Dunsyre Blue caused the outbreak.

“All they have concluded is that raw milk cheese carries a small risk of STEC, which is already well recorded in scientific literature.

“There has been no highly-pathogenic STEC found in any of our products, nor anything found linking our cheese to the outbreak. This is fact.

“The report confirms our fears that blue cheese was the only foodstuff considered from an early stage in the investigation.

“Salad was also mentioned, but there is no evidence given of any investigation of salads.

“We remain committed to producing raw milk cheese following best practice, based on scientific evidence and following regulatory guidance, as we have done for over 30 years.”