I’ve never met Hugh Pennington (or Sir Hugh as he’s known to some), but as far as food safety gurus go, he’s way up there. In 1997 he led a public inquiry into a massive E. coli O157 outbreak linked to a Scottish butcher resulting in 21 deaths. In 2006 he was tasked with deconstructing an additional E. coli O157 outbreak that tragically led to the death of 5-year-old Mason Jones.
Pennington has some serious street cred. He writes in Scottish Justice Matters this month about E. coli and the law. The below is an impactful passage that exemplifies a daily barrier to keeping food safe.
HACCP works. Ideally a food business prepares its own plan, but SMEs will probably buy one. Their understanding of hazards is sometimes poor. And there is dishonesty; William Tudor lied to environmental health officers, and John Barr was economical with the truth. Such behaviour poses a big challenge for regulators. While it is a step too far to continually invoke Paxman’s principle (‘Why is this person lying to me?’), box ticking will not do; personal experience and even intuition is very important in detecting the ill-intentioned but well- informed operator.
In my experience Inquiries have been good at identifying lessons but less effective at ensuring that they are learned.
The lessons are all there; learning them – and doing something – is the challenge.