Cheese firm linked to E.coli death looks to clear name

By Noli Dinkovski

- Last updated on GMT

Cheesemaker Errington has had batches of its Lanark Blue taken away for testing
Cheesemaker Errington has had batches of its Lanark Blue taken away for testing

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The cheesemaker implicated in an E.coli outbreak that led to the death of a three-year-old girl has spoken of his “relief” after two of his products were seized – as it offered him a chance to clear the company’s name in court.

Scots producer Errington Cheese had batches of its unpasteurised cheeses Corra Linn and Lanark Blue taken away by South Lanarkshire Council (SLC) on Friday (February 3) under the Food Safety Act 1990.

SLC said it had acted to protect public health following concerns over a number of cheeses produced by Errington.

It claimed tests had shown the seized batches of Lanark Blue to contain E.coli​. A 21-day detention notice had been served on the batches of Corra Linn so that further testing can be carried out to establish if it is unsafe.

A further nine batches of Corra Linn were excluded from the seizure, and were allowed to be sold.

Long-running dispute

Errington Cheese owner Humphrey Errington has been in dispute with the council and Food Standards Scotland (FSS) since last August’s E.coli​ outbreak​ was linked to its unpasteurised Dunsyre Blue cheese. The outbreak led to 22 food poisoning cases and the child’s death.

Last month, the company told the council that “after extensive investigation and receipt of advice from a variety of experts”​, it was satisfied that its cheese was safe to eat, and intended to put Lanark Blue and Corra Linn back on the market.

On January 27, a Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled that the detention notices were ​unlawful and irrational​, and granted an interim measure in favour of Errington Cheese. However, judge Lord Bannatyne gave SLC a week to decide if it wanted to act under section 9 of the 1990 Act.

Following Friday’s seizure, Errington said: “Although this has been a really painful day for us, it is nonetheless a relief as we may be able to get a judicial hearing of our case and get some kind of closure one way or another.

“I think personally we could not cope with another six months of the relentless aggressive harassment from those at the top of Food Standards Scotland.”

Errington described as “good news”​ the fact that council had 21 days before it had to release the seized Corra Linn onto the market or take it to the sheriff court.

‘Unnecessary, unreasonable and potentially harmful’

However, he believed the seizure of Lanark Blue to be “unnecessary, unreasonable and potentially harmful”​ to the cheese. Errington claimed it was the result of a laboratory mix-up, as the purported strain of E.coli ​found in the cheese was identical to that found in its Dunsyre Blue F15 batch.

“We believe the SLC are wrong because the two batches of cheese did not come into contact with one another and were made on separate months.

“It is biologically implausible for an identical strain of E.coli to be found in different species (cows and sheep) on farms that are geographically separated,”​ he said.

SLC said the seizure was part of a wider range of steps that offered a “proportionate response”​ in relation to the different Errington cheeses that were detained after a Food Alert For Action was issued by FSS following the E.coli​ outbreak.

Michael McGlynn, executive director of community and enterprise at SLC, said: “From the outset, the council’s clear and primary objective has been exactly what the public and consumers would expect it to be – to do everything we can to protect public health.

“To ensure public health we are removing one type of cheese, which tests have identified as unsafe and we will seek to put this cheese before a sheriff asking that they be condemned.”

SLC said it was considering a proposal from Errington that Dunsyre Blue could be placed on the market on the condition that it is sold and clearly labelled as a raw ingredient that needed to be cooked.

A statement from FSS said: ​South Lanarkshire Council in its capacity as the enforcement authority for Errington Cheese Ltd has taken action to seize and detain cheese considered to present a risk to public health.

​The food alert for action notice issued by Food Standards Scotland seeking withdrawal of Errington Cheese Ltd products from the market remains in place.

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