Food Law News - UK - 2011

FSA News Item, 15 February 2011

HYGIENE - Guidance to prevent E.coli contamination

The FSA has today issued guidance to clarify the steps that food businesses need to take to control the risk of contamination from the food bug E.coli O157.

Serious outbreaks of E.coli in Scotland in 1996 and Wales in 2005 resulted in serious illness in some individuals and, in a few cases, death. These outbreaks were attributed to cross-contamination arising from the poor handling of food. This guidance has been developed to remind food businesses what they should be doing to protect their customers from the serious consequences of E.coli food poisoning.

Many businesses will already be following the steps contained in the guidance but it is intended to provide reassurance that they are doing everything they can to prevent cross-contamination.

It is also expected that the guidance will be used by local authority food safety officers when inspecting businesses in their area.

Key measures

Some of the key measures highlighted in the guidance to control E.coli are:

Although E.coli is the key focus of this guidance, the measures outlined will also help in the control of other bacteria, such as campylobacter and salmonella.

The full guidance, developed following a public consultation and Professor Hugh Pennington’s report into the 2005 E.coli outbreak, can be found at the link below, along with a factsheet for businesses, which summarises the guidance.

The science behind the story

Most strains of E.coli are harmless, but the strain called E.coli O157 can cause severe illness. This is because it can produce toxins (called verocytotoxins). In other countries different strains that produce these toxins are more common, such as E. coli O111 and E. coli O26.

E.coli O157 (and other similar toxin-producing E.coli) are transmitted through eating, drinking or contact with undercooked minced beef and milk that is unpasteurised, hasn’t been pasteurised properly, or has been contaminated after pasteurisation.

It's also possible to become infected by direct contact with people or animals that are infected, or with land contaminated with animal faeces.

What are the symptoms?

Links to documents on the FSA web site:

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