E.coli food chain probe continues as outbreak is declared over

By Michelle Perrett

- Last updated on GMT

E.coli linked to mixed salad leaves
E.coli linked to mixed salad leaves

Related tags: Food, Food safety

Public Health England (PHE) is continuing to investigate the source of the latest E.coli outbreak that killed two and infected 161 people after declaring the outbreak was over. 

PHE has said no new primary cases had been identified, which was a “strong indication”​ that the outbreak was over.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) said it had received assurances from the food industry that necessary precautions were being taken in the wake of the outbreak.

There were 161 cases of the strain of E.coli​ identified with 154 in England, six in Wales and one in Scotland.

Salad leaves were identified as the likely source of the outbreak after PHE’s whole genome sequencing (WGS) technology was used. The testing indicated that the strain involved was likely to be an imported strain, possibly from the Mediterranean area.

The FSA told Foodmanufacture.co.uk in July that its incidents team was trying to find the source of the outbreak by tracking its development through the food supply chain.

No new primary cases

Professor Jeremy Hawker, incident director at PHE, said: “We are pleased to confirm there have been no new primary cases identified. This is a very strong indication that the outbreak is over. We continue to work closely with the FSA to confirm the source of this outbreak and to take all the appropriate measures to protect the public.”

He continued to warn people and operators to remove any loose soil before storing vegetables and to thoroughly wash all vegetables and salads that would be eaten raw unless they had been pre-prepared and were labelled ‘ready to eat’. These measures might reduce the risk of infection from any E.coli​ contaminated vegetables and salad but would not eliminate any risk of infection completely, he warned.

Identify the source

Richard Hoskin, head of incidents at the FSA, said: “Consumer protection has been the main priority throughout this investigation and we are pleased that the outbreak appears to be over.

​We are continuing to work hard to identify the source of the outbreak and obtain the necessary assurances from industry that appropriate hygiene controls are in place. We also encourage people, as a precaution, to follow our food hygiene advice to minimise the risk of illness.”

E.coliO157​ infection can cause a range of symptoms, from mild diarrhoea to bloody diarrhoea with severe abdominal pain. On rare occasions, it can also cause more serious medical conditions and can be caught by eating contaminated food or by direct contact with animals with the bacteria.

WGS, the technique used to identify the source of this E.coli​ outbreak, will be described by Dr Roy Betts, head of the Department of Microbiology at Campden BRI and a member of the FSA’s Advisory Committee of the Microbiological Safety of Food at Food Manufacture’s Food safety Conference: ‘Boosting consumer confidence in times of change,’ which takes place on Thursday October 13 at Prospero House in London.

For details visit www.food-safetyconference.co.uk

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