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.
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 the responsibility for the outbreak, “falls squarely on the shoulders of Tudor,” finding that Tudor:
• 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facility that contained a filthy meat slicer, cluttered and dirty chopping areas, and meat more than two years out of date piled in a freezer.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, 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.
Last week, the meat traders were back at it, saying some butchers have chosen to discontinue ready-to-eat food, as enforcement of FSA E. coli guidelines issued in February is getting tougher and this could lead to shop closures in the long-term.
Local authorities across the UK are increasingly enforcing the guidelines through normal inspection procedures, forcing butchers to alter their businesses. In order to comply with the requirement to separate equipment for raw and ready-to-eat food, some are using alternative vacuum-sealing techniques for prepared meat, but others have decided to discontinue it altogether.
And the term, cross-contamination, doesn’t capture the carnage that dangerous bacteria can wreak, moving from raw foods to hands, cooked foods, prep surfaces and in butcheries. Bug transfer? The sisterhood of the travelling poop? Suggestions?