Date lodged: 22 September 2016
To ask the Scottish Government, in light of media reports that Food Standards Scotland had no evidence definitively linking recent incidents of E.coli infection with unpasteurised cheese, whether this is the case.
Answered by: Shona Robison 6 October 2016
As is normal practice for the management of outbreaks such as these Health Protection Scotland (HPS) convened an Incident Management Team (IMT). The IMT is a multi-agency team comprising HPS, Food Standards Scotland, NHS Boards, Scottish E. coli O157/VTEC Reference Laboratory and Local Authority Environmental Health Teams. Membership was expanded to include Public Health England when cases were identified in England. It is the role of the IMT to consider all available evidence; epidemiological, microbiological, environmental and food chain investigations and to make recommendations based on this evidence to protect the health of the public.
On 15 September the IMT issued a statement summarising some of the investigations to date, which reported that epidemiological investigations have identified Dunsyre Blue cheese as the most likely cause of the outbreak. This was based on consideration of all available evidence including that 19 of the 22 confirmed cases had eaten blue cheese prior to becoming ill. Of these, 15 were known to have eaten Dunsyre Blue while others cannot be certain about the brand of blue cheese they have consumed. Investigations are ongoing on the other cases. Despite extensive investigation, no other common link to a majority of cases could be established.
In food related outbreaks, it is not unusual that the investigation does not directly link all of the cases to the suspected vehicle. This can be for a number of reasons including cases having an incomplete recollection of all the foods eaten prior to becoming unwell, secondary cases (person to person spread) and cross contamination.
During investigations of this nature it is not always possible to isolate the same strain of organism from the suspected food vehicle as from the human cases. There are a number of reasons for this, firstly as the time between the consumption of the food vehicle and the laboratory confirmation of the case can take up to three weeks and even longer in some cases, this means that the food consumed by cases is often no longer available for testing. In addition, not all of those who have eaten an implicated product will become ill because the organism may not be evenly distributed throughout the food.
The IMT has considered all the information available to them, and continue to be of the view that Dunsyre Blue remains the most likely cause of the outbreak.