Fancy food ain’t safe food: UK E. coli cheesemaker edition

Jane Bradley of the Scotsman reports an artisan cheesemaker which is embroiled in a court case with food hygiene authorities after being forced to withdraw its products amid an outbreak of E.coli which killed a three year old girl, has been named one of Britain’s top cheese producers in an industry awards ceremony.

Errington Cheeses, which is awaiting a court date against South Lanarkshire Council, which ordered the manufacturer to stop production of its raw milk cheeses amid an investigation following the outbreak of the food poisoning bug last summer, was given runner up in the Best Artisan Producer category at the Great British Cheese Awards. The Lanarkshire-based business also came runner up in the category of Best Blue Cheese for its Lanark Blue cheese, at the awards at Marcus Wareing’s Gilbert Scott restaurant in London, hosted by food website Great British Chefs.

The company is currently only making one type of cheese – made from ewe’s milk – pending its court case against South Lanarkshire Council. Owner Humphrey Errington, who launched the firm in 1985, has insisted that his cheese is not the source of the food poisoning outbreak – which saw 19 people hospitalised – and has claimed that the authorities, including Food Standards Scotland, are trying to curb production of raw milk cheese. A Just Giving campaign launched to help Errington cover its legal costs, raised £34,000 from supporters. Twitter user Artisan Food wrote: “Chefs vote of confidence @ErringtonCheese Resilience in face of harassment/bias/ignorance.” In March, an official report from Health Protection Scotland into the E.coli outbreak claimed that Errington’s Dunsyre Blue was the source of the bacteria.

The Australian Institute of Food Safety identifies five high risk food items for poisoning

In the UK each year roughly 20,000 people are hospitalised with food poisoning and 500 people die.
Symptoms are unpleasant and include vomiting, diarrhoea and a high temperature, according to the NHS.
There are a number of causes, including chemicals, toxins and bacteria.
While it’s almost always an accident, food poisoning tends to affect people after they’ve eaten particular foods.
According to the Australian Institute of Food Safety, this is because certain foods are more at risk of bacterial growth than others.
Poultry
Raw and undercooked poultry can be contaminated with campylobacter bacteria and salmonella.
According to the Australian Institute of Food Safety, the bacteria can survive up until cooking kills them – so make sure you cook it thoroughly and don’t contaminate surfaces with raw chicken.

Cook poultry to an internal temperature of 74C (165F) to ensure safety, forget the jargon “cook thoroughly,”doesn’t tell me anything.

Eggs
Last week it was revealed that Dutch eggs contaminated with insecticide may have entered the UK.
They can also sometimes be contaminated with salmonella.
You can avoid being affected by cooking eggs thoroughly, and avoiding foods that purposely contain undercooked eggs, like mayonnaises and salad dressings, according to the Australian Institute of Food Safety.

Leafy greens
Because they are often eaten raw with no cooking process, bacteria like E.coli can easily affect you.
However, according to the Australian Institute of Food Safety, washing them can reduce risk of harmful bacteria as well as chemical pesticides.

Well this all depends if the salad is pre-washed and labelled accordingly, if so, washing lettuce at home will only increase the risk of cross-contamination. Reducing the food safety risk with leafy greens begins well before it arrives in your home.

Raw milk
This is where milk is unpasteurised, meaning it has not been heated up to kill harmful bacteria.
It leaves you at a higher risk than regular milk of consuming bacteria like E.coli, salmonella and listeria.

Raw milk has always left an impression on me ever since I was a food tech in Alberta. The health department submitted a sample of raw milk from a community in Alberta where a significant number of kids became ill. I was responsible in analyzing the milk to determine the etiologic agent and I remember vividly looking at this black, overgrown agar plate, completely taken over by Campylobacter jejuni, poor kids.

Cheese
A bacteria commonly found in cheese is staphylococcus aureus.
It’s heat resistant, so the best way of avoiding cheese becoming contaminated is to store it at or under 5 degrees.

 

300 French schoolchildren sickened by ‘gone-off cheese’

Katie Forster of The Independent reports a dodgy batch of smelly French cheese has been blamed for a mass food poisoning outbreak at schools in Normandy.

All French cheese smalls bad.

Dodgy is not a microbiologically–specific term.

An investigation launched after 300 children fell ill in the town of Rouen named the culprit as gone-off cheese served up by school canteens.

One parent said her child would be avoiding school meals after the scandal, telling local media: “I’d prefer to take them to a fast food place”.

Local authorities inspected the producers of the cheese – a soft, mould-ripened local variety called neufchâtel – but were unable to identify the origin of the contamination.

The children began to suffer headaches, vomiting and stomach aches after eating the cheese at 54 different primary schools and nurseries on 27 April.

A survey of 1,000 parents of children in the region, both those affected and not affected by the outbreak, found a “strong association between the consumption of the cheese and the appearance of digestive symptoms,” according to the local health board.

 

1 dead, 4 sick in 2014: Miami cheese producer jailed for 15 months

On August 4, 2014, Oasis Brands, Inc. voluntarily recalled quesito casero (fresh curd) due to possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination.

oasis-listeria-oct_-14On October 6, 2014, Oasis Brands, Inc. recalled cuajada en hoja (fresh curd) after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration isolated Listeria monocytogenes from environmental samples collected from the production facility.

Whole-genome sequences of the Listeria monocytogenes strains isolated from recalled quesito casero cheese produced by Oasis Brands, Inc. were found to be highly related to sequences of Listeria strains isolated from one person who became ill in September 2013 and four persons who became ill during June through October 2014.

These five ill persons were reported from four states: Georgia (1), New York (1), Tennessee (2), and Texas (1).

Four of the five ill persons were hospitalized. One death was reported in Tennessee. Three illnesses were related to a pregnancy – one of these was diagnosed in a newborn.

All ill persons were reported to be of Hispanic ethnicity and reported consuming Hispanic-style soft cheese. Two persons who were able to answer questions about specific varieties of Hispanic-style soft cheeses reported consuming quesito casero, though neither could remember the brand.

According to Andrea Torres of ABC Channel 10, after making promises to the feds, Christian Rivas knew he was distributing cheese with listeria and did so anyway.

Rivas was in federal prison Nov. 11, 2016 and faced 15 moths in prison after federal prosecutors armed with the results of CDC tests and FDA inspections were ready to show consumers were “fraudulently led to believe” the cheese was safe to eat when it wasn’t. 

Before the criminal case, authorities recalled 15 of their “Lacteos Santa Martha ” products targeting Central American migrants in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina. The list included the “Queso Seco Olanchano,” the “Queso Seco Hondureno,” the  “Queso Cuzcatlan,” and the “Crema Guatemalteca.”

Rivas plead guilty to charges that he acted with an “intent to defraud and mislead, delivered cheese processed and packed at the Oasis facility into interstate commerce that was adulterated,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice. 

U.S. District Judge Robert N. Scola sentenced Rivas to 15 months in prison.  

Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Justin Green, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigations (FDA-OCI), Miami Field Office, announced the sentencing

“We will continue to pursue and bring to justice those who put the public’s health at risk by allowing contaminated foods to enter the U.S. marketplace,” Green said. 

Raw cheese firm faces the bugs: Drops legal action over E. coli investigation

After all the posturing and posing, Humphrey Errington, founder of Errington Cheese, now says he is no longer seeking a judicial review of the Food Standards Scotland’s (FSS) decision to impose a blanket ban on all his products after finding strains of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli.

dunsyre-blue-cheeseA child died after contracting the illness, which affected a total of 20 people in July this year. Food Standards Scotland (FSS) said Dunsyre Blue, made by Errington Cheese, was the “most likely cause”.

Mr Errington said the firm had also been offered a meeting with FSS to resolve their differences. “We have accepted that,” he said.

“It’s a major ‘back off’ off from them,” he added. “It’s a big, big step but it’s far from getting us back in the market. Our aim is get them to see that our cheese is not a risk to health.”

Pasteurization works.

Mr Errington always claimed there was “no evidence” linking its cheese to the outbreak and it accused the FSS of opposing the production of unpasteurised milk cheese.

After the legal challenge to the order was dropped, the watchdog confirmed it had issued a revised order in relation to Errington Cheese products. It stressed that the full product withdrawal remains in place as the cheeses are “regarded as a risk to health”.

A statement from the company said: “Errington Cheese Limited embarked upon a judicial review against Food Standards Scotland for two main reasons.

“Firstly, because we were clear that it was unlawful for FSS to have ordered the destruction of our cheeses on September 14 and secondly because we believed it was incumbent as a matter of fairness for FSS to share the evidence which they have been relying on with us.

“We are pleased to report that it has now been recognised that the destruction of our cheese was unwarranted and unnecessary and that FSS has finally started to share the evidence which they possess with us.”

In a statement, Food Standards Scotland confirmed that samples taken from different batches of different cheeses tested positive for E. coli O157 and for other strains of the bacteria.

FSS chief executive Geoff Ogle said: “This outbreak led to one fatality and 11 people being hospitalised. This was a major food incident where there was a significant risk to public health, with a tragic outcome. We have therefore decided to release the three versions of our risk assessment, each undertaken as new information became available, as well as our final risk management decision document.”

In a food safety information vacuum, anyone can say anything.

I understand there are uncertainties, legal implications, and a general fear that people don’t understand science, but if a regulator is going to shut down a business they need to make their case publicly – or others will do it for them (and they won’t like the result).

It’s a messy, modern world for regulators, but they, like scientists and everyone else, must be prepared to be held legally, politically and publicly accountable for their actions.

War is just a tweet away.

Everyone must be held accountable.

The actions described below should be incorporated into routine public health policy.

And by going public, the company backed off its ridiculous claims.

Geoff Ogle said a few days ago,, “Given the understandable level of interest and press coverage regarding the E. coli O157 outbreak linked to products from Errington Cheese Ltd, FSS has taken the decision that it is in the public interest to publish the information that we have used to inform our decision-making with regards to this incident.

“This outbreak led to one fatality and 11 people being hospitalised. This was a major food incident where there was a significant risk to public health, with a tragic outcome.

“We have therefore decided to release the , each undertaken as new information became available, as well as our final risk management decision document. Of particular relevance is the summary of the circumstances and information available to us at 14 September when FSS decided to undertake a full recall of all Errington Cheese Ltd products. The risk management document of 8 November 2016 sets out our conclusions at paragraphs 15-18 based on the risk assessments we have undertaken.

“I have seen a number of comments today and over the past weeks about this incident which FSS does not recognise nor accept. Reference to recent legal actions should not be about claiming any sort of victory given the consequences of the E. coli O157 outbreak. There is nothing to celebrate and this was never a vendetta against the rights to make, sell and consume cheese made from raw milk, nor against Errington Cheese Ltd. Given all that has happened it is sad to see this being portrayed as such in some quarters.

“Finally, I want to put on record my thanks to all FSS staff involved, and to our partner organisations who have supported our endeavours in managing this incident for their magnificent efforts. Their entire focus has been on protecting public health and making the right decisions based on the evidence we had. Scotland is fortunate to have such dedicated public servants.”

Go public.

War is just a tweet away.

Blessed are the cheese-makers: Storm parliament in NZ

A small-scale cheese maker is hauling her raw milk cheese to Parliament.

florida-swampKatikati’s Mount Eliza Cheese owner Jill Whalley says New Zealand artisan producers of raw milk cheese find high compliance costs crippling – about $60 a kilo.

That makes European products cheaper to import and it’s not fair, she says.

The Food and Safety Reform Bill is currently under consideration by a select committee.

“We want a level playing field,” says Whalley.

She believes it’s prohibitive to a thriving artisan cheese industry.

“If they took the same approach to road safety as they do to food safety, we would all have to drive at three miles per hour, with a person in front waving a red flag.”

Whalley argues pastuerisation destroys the milk’s good bacteria which protects the cheese from harmful bacteria.

Small cheese makers have greater control over hygiene and other variables and can prevent it from happening, Whalley says.

I also have some land in Florida you may want buy.

Raw milk cheese can really suck

Fresh cheeses are a main garnish of Mexican food. Consumption of artisanal fresh cheeses is very common and most of them are made from unpasteurised cow milk.

unknownA total of 52 fresh unpasteurised cheeses of five different types were purchased from a variety of suppliers from Tabasco, Mexico. Using the most probable number method, 67% and 63% of samples were positive for faecal coliforms and E. coli, respectively; revealing their low microbiological quality.

General hygienic conditions and practices of traditional cheese manufacturers were poor; most establishments had unclean cement floors, all lacked windows and doors screens, and none of the food-handlers wore aprons, surgical masks or bouffant caps. After analysing all E. coli isolates (121 strains) for the presence of 26 virulence genes, results showed that 9 (17%) samples were contaminated with diarrheagenic E. coli strains, 8 harboured non-O157 Shiga toxin producing E. coli (STEC), and one sample contained both STEC and diffusely ad-herent E. coli strains. All STEC strains carried the stx1 gene. Potential uropathogenic E. coli (UPEC) strains were isolated from 15 (29%) samples; the most frequent gene combination was fimA-agn43. Two samples were contaminated with Salmonella. The results demonstrated that unpasteurised fresh cheeses produced in Tabasco are of poor microbiological quality and may frequently harbour foodborne pathogens.

Food safety authorities in Mexico need to conduct more rigorous surveillance of fresh cheeses. Furthermore, simple and inexpensive measures as establishing programs emphasizing good hand milking practices and hygienic manufacturing procedures may have a major effect on improving the microbiological quality of these food items.

Mexican unpasteurised fresh cheeses are contaminated with Salmonella spp., non-O157 Shiga toxin producing Escherichia coli and potential uropathogenic E. coli strains: A public health risk

International Journal of Food Microbiology 237 (2016) 10–16, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijfoodmicro.2016.08.018

R Guzman-Hernandez, A Contreras-Rodriguez, R Hernandez-Velez, I Perez-Martinez, A Lopez-Merino, MB Zaidi, T Estrada-Garcia

Unpasteurized cheese making record number sick in Texas

Claire Z. Cardona of The Dallas Morning News reports a record number of people in Dallas County have been sickened from an infection caused by consuming unpasteurized cheese, health officials said. 

brucellosisThere have been 13 brucellosis infections in residents so far this year, affecting patients between 6 and 80 years old, according to a health advisory released Thursday

All of the patients reported eating the cheese brought into the U.S. from Mexico by friends or relatives, consuming the cheese while traveling in Mexico or eating unidentified cheese products from local street vendors, officials said. 

The county typically sees two to six cases a year, though 11 were recorded in 2004. 

Health officials confirmed all the Dallas County cases by blood culture. In two instances, hospital lab personnel were exposed while handling the samples. 

The Brucella bacteria can infect livestock and is most commonly transmitted to humans who consume the unpasteurized dairy products. Some areas, such as Mexico and Central and South America, are considered high-risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

New cheese alert after child’s E. coli death

A three-year-old girl from Dunbartonshire who died from E. coli O157 was among 20 confirmed cases that emerged in July and linked to Dunsyre Blue cheese made by South Lanarkshire-based Errington Cheese.

e-coli-o157-cheeseOn Saturday, Food Standards Scotland ordered the withdrawal from sale of batch G14 of Lanark White (unpasteurized) ewe milk cheese, adding, “A sample from a batch of Lanark White submitted for testing by South Lanarkshire Council has tested positive for E. coli O157. Although this organism may not carry shiga toxins, it is associated with human disease in the UK, so this cheese is a potential risk to health. FSS has issued a FAFA [Food Alert for Action] calling for this product to be immediately recalled from sale.”

The order to withdraw the cheese from sale was made after Errington refused to issue its own voluntary recall.

The company said the cheese had been on the market for three weeks with no reported cases of illness.

In a statement on its website, it said: “When we were told of the presumptive E. coli O157 result we immediately consulted experts in dairy microbiology.

“The experts told us they were confused and concerned by the testing methodology adopted by the laboratory.

“We have given careful consideration to this and to the fact that the cheese has been on the market for three weeks now with absolutely no reported incidence of illness.

“We have arranged for the sample of the same cheese tested by the authorities to be tested and the results will be ready on Monday when we will review the situation.”

Health Protection Scotland previously said that epidemiological investigations had “identified Dunsyre Blue cheese as the most likely cause of the outbreak”.

It added: “Despite extensive investigation, including looking for other possible food sources, no other link to a majority of cases could be established.”

Errington Cheese disputed the link, maintaining there was no conclusive evidence linking its products to the outbreak.

In a statement on its website last month it said that testing had shown it to be “completely clear of E. coli O157.”

Professor Hugh Pennington, the country’s leading expert on E. coli, told the Herald Scotland it could be difficult to identify it in any product suspected of causing food poisoning as by the time the illness comes to light, the food is usually all consumed or thrown away.

“Even if some of the batch (of food) is available for testing the bug might not be evenly distributed through a whole product, and so you might test part of the product that has been left or not been eaten yet and not find it – that doesn’t prove it wasn’t there in the bit that has been eaten,” he said.

“Scientifically it is sometimes quite complicated to come to a straightforward conclusion. The cheese manufacturers rightly say what is the evidence – but the regulatory authorities might never be able to come up with that.”

Joanna Blythman, investigative food journalist and the Sunday Herald’s food critic, said she believed there was a prejudice in Scotland against raw milk products, adding, “The (Dunsyre Blue) case puts a chill round everyone who wants to make a small scale artisan food. Meanwhile, the real prime suspects for large scale food poisoning are our industrial food producers.”

Stick to journalism. Illness per meal and type of food consumer and processing technique would have to be factored into any comparison of one food and artisan products.