Meat industry opposes UK cross-contamination guidelines

Six years after 5-year-old Mason Jones died a painful and unnecessary death and two years after recommendations from a formal inquiry, the U.K. Food Standards Agency has decided to publish additional guidance on cross-contamination.

The UK. Meat industry immediately complained.

In November 1996, over 400 fell ill and 21 were killed in Scotland by E. coli O157:H7 found in deli meats produced by family butchers John Barr & Son. The Butcher of Scotland, who had been in business for 28 years and was previously awarded the title of Scottish Butcher of the Year, was using the same knives to handle raw and cooked meat.

In a 1997 inquiry, Prof. Hugh Pennington recommended, among other things, the physical separation, within premises and butcher shops, of raw and
cooked meat products using separate counters, equipment and staff.

Five-year-old Mason Jones died on Oct. 4, 2005, from E. coli O157 as part of an outbreak which sickened 157 — primarily schoolchildren — in south Wales.

In a 2009 inquiry, Prof. Pennington concluded that serious failings at every step in the food chain allowed butcher William Tudor to start the 2005 E. coli O157 outbreak, and that while the responsibility for the outbreak, “falls squarely on the shoulders of Tudor,” finding that he:

• encouraged staff suffering from stomach bugs and diarrhea to continue working;?
• knew of cross-contamination between raw and cooked meats, but did nothing to prevent it;?
• used the same packing in which raw meat had been delivered to subsequently store cooked product;? and,
• operated a processing facility that contained a filthy meat slicer, cluttered and dirty chopping areas, and meat more than two years out of date piled in a freezer.

Prof Pennington said he was disappointed that the recommendations he made more than 10 years ago, following the E. coli O157 outbreak in Wishaw, Scotland, which killed 21 people had failed to prevent the South Wales Valleys outbreak.

In Feb. 2011, the U.K. Food Standards Authority issued guidance to clarify the steps that food businesses need to take to control the risk of contamination from E. coli O157.

On June 1, 2011, FSA published a Q&A document in response to feedback on its guidance on the control of cross-contamination with E. coli O157.

A few days later, Philip Edge, the newly appointed president of the National Federation of Meat and Food Traders (NFMFT), warned that the cross-contamination guidelines pose a serious risk to the viability of small butchers and meat businesses, adding,

“If the FSA wish to apply these guidelines, they must ensure it is for every food business. There is no room for the rule to apply to one and not to the other.??“

Complete separation in regard to handlers, to clothing and to machinery applies to all food businesses, whether they are a market stall, a fast-food outlet, a restaurant, hotel, greengrocer, baker, butcher, bagel-maker, supermarket, everyone. And the guidelines will be – and must be – applied across the board. Local authorities will not – and must not – get away with targeting just butchers.“

FSA’s operations director Andrew Rhodes defended the plans, saying that consistency of application was the key although he recognized that every business was different and that there had to be some flexibility to do things ‘the right way.’

Rhodes met with strong opposition from Federation members, who maintained that their views have not been listened to. They have vowed to continue the fight against both the guidelines and the FSA’s controversial plans for full-cost recovery. They said that the FSA did not understand the impact it was having on small businesses.

Outgoing president John Taylor criticised the “the over-staffing and policing of the industry”. He warned that the cross-contamination guidelines were impractical, not affordable and would result in severely limiting customer choice.