Welsh government responds to E. coli outbreak report; parents of Mason say it’s not enough

After the 2005 E. coli O157 outbreak which killed 5-year-old Mason Jones and sickened 160 schoolchildren in Wales, Professor Hugh Pennington led a public inquiry which revealed the futility of food safety training, government inspection, and pretty much anything to do with the so-called food safety system.

Yesterday, First Minister Rhodri Morgan announced
more of the same in responding to Pennington’s report in the Wales Assembly.

“We know already that the Food Standards Agency is to review the use of equipment such as vacuum-packing machinery for both raw and cooked products.”

Duh. It shouldn’t happen.

“The training of inspectors and their managers is also being examined, with the aim of making this more comprehensive, helping them develop a sixth sense of what is potentially catastrophic.”

So they can see dead people?

“Inspections will be unannounced unless there is a clear requirement otherwise.”

Just make the inspections unannounced.

Sharon Mills and Nathan Jones, the parents of Mason Jones (above, right) said they would like to see Mr Morgan take more direct action and impose measures on the authorities involved, instead of leaving them to correct their own mistakes, with Ms. Mills stating,

“It was a bit disappointing because there was nothing definite about what he said. I thought we were going to get some answers and there still aren’t any. I don’t think we are any further forward than we were before.”

Somewhere, Prof. Pennington, who also headed the inquiry after the 1996 E. coli O157 outbreak in Scotland that killed 21 and sickened over 400, is wondering how to escape this Groundhog-Day-esque cycle of outbreak-illness-death-report-repeat.

E. coli report: lots of blame to go around in Wales

Five-year-old Mason Jones died a painful and unnecessary death.

Mason (right) died Oct. 4, 2005, from E. coli O157 as part of an outbreak which sickened 161 — primarily schoolchildren — in south Wales.

Mason’s mother, Sharon Mills, said in 2005 that her son’s death was "avoidable" and that lessons "have to be learnt."

"There was nothing wrong with him, only that he ate a dinner – an innocent child eating a dinner. I never thought you could die from E. coli. Never. I had heard of E.coli and I just thought it was food poisoning. I never ever thought Mason would die from it."

Today, Professor Hugh Pennington concluded that serious failings at every step in the food chain allowed rogue 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,” there was no shortage of errors, including:

• local health types did not sufficiently assess or monitor John Tudor & Son’s food safety management or HACCP plan;

• the abattoir was allowed to continue slaughtering despite longstanding and repetitive failures, in breach of legislative requirements and without significant improvements; and,

• the procurement process was “seriously flawed in relation to food safety”

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 17 people had failed to prevent the South Wales Valleys outbreak.

“I was very disappointed that the more we looked into what happened in South Wales, the greater the number of parallels between Scotland and Wales. That was disappointing for me personally because I had spent a lot of time coming up with the recommendations in 1996 and 1997 – they were implemented but somewhere things fell down in the way they were implemented. I am looking for these recommendations to be implemented as soon as possible because E.coli is as powerful a threat now as it was in 2005.”

When handling meat, it’s ‘turd to tongue’ or -‘manure to mouth’

Hugh ‘Groundhog Day’ Pennington, emeritus professor of bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen, wrote in a column for the BBC earlier this week,

“The kitchen has the potential to be most dangerous room in the house. Making it safe is easy. When handling raw meat mutter the mantra ‘turd to tongue’ or – if you have squeamish tendencies – ‘manure to mouth.’”

The good Dr. Pennington was talking about how Campylobacter is the most common cause of foodborne illness and that it “is an embarrassing fact that Campy is a natural bug of birds.”

It’s not easy. Food safety isn’t simple. That’s why up to 30 per cent of everyone gets sick from the food and water they consume each year. And as Jorgen Schlundt, director of food safety at the World Health Organization said the other day,

??????“The notion that you can deal with it at the end of the food chain is clearly wrong.”??????

Groundhog Day continues for Hugh Pennington; lashes out a delay in E. coli reporting — again (and again and again)

In November 1996, over 400 fell ill and 21 — largely pensioners who had attended a church supper — were eventually killed in Scotland from infection with E. coli O157:H7.

Health authorities quickly linked the outbreak to cooked meat sold by family butchers John Barr & Son in Wishaw, who had been in business for 28 years and in September was awarded the title of Scottish Butcher of the Year. … It was concluded by investigators that the contamination occurred probably because knives used to separate raw product were also being used to open packages of cooked product.”

Professor Hugh Pennington was called in to handle a public inquiry.

Then another E. coli O157 outbreak struck, this time in Wales in 2005, killing a five-year-old and sickening some 150 schoolchildren. Another public inquiry was held earlier this year, chaired again by Prof. Pennington.

Then another outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 in Scotland killed one and sickened seven in Aug. 2007, again in cold cuts, and again Prof. Pennington said there was no excuse for allowing contaminated cold meat to be sold.

Yesterday, Prof Pennington told the Sunday Mail that a Scottish hospital taking three days to report three cases of E. coli O157 to the local public team was unacceptable, adding,

"I’d only find a delay of hours acceptable. Finding the source must be done quickly, especially after what happened in Wishaw years ago."

Maybe one day the good prof will awaken from this repeating nightmare.