E.coli death linked cheesemaker lays off staff

By Gwen Ridler contact

- Last updated on GMT

Errington was forced to lay off its last two members of staff, as the council refused to release stocks of its cheese
Errington was forced to lay off its last two members of staff, as the council refused to release stocks of its cheese
Errington Cheese, the Scottish cheesemaker linked to a fatal outbreak of E.coli O157 in 2016, has made the last of its remaining staff redundant, as sales dropped in spite of a ruling that cleared the company of breaching hygiene regulations.

Co-owner Selina Cairns said that “with a heavy heart” ​Errington’s two remaining staff had been laid off.

“I feel really terrible as they have stood by me over the past couple of years,” ​she added. “My sales of cheese are less than 25% of what they were two years ago, and because the sales are going to be reduced again by 50%, I simply cannot afford to pay their wages.”

Court case ruling

Last month, the cheesemaker received the all clear from its civil case held at Hamilton Sheriff Court in January, which found that Errington Cheese was complying with hygiene regulations.

Despite the ruling, South Lanarkshire Council has refused to release one batch of Errington’s Lanark Blue cheese and three batches of its Corra Linn brand that it had seized, due to these potentially containing harmful pathogens.

Cairns has also written to Food Standards Scotland (FSS), asking the organisation to remove all their allegations of deficiencies in Errington’s systems and risk management on its website, as well as the food alert regarding the manufacturer’s cheeses.

Unable to sell the cheese

“They have refused, so in essence the FAFA​ [Food Alert for Action] is still in place regarding the Corra Linn from 2016, so I would be unable to sell it anyway​,” she added.

“We have also heard that FSS is ‘fuming’ about the result of the judgement. Bizarre really – you would expect that they would be pleased to know that we were complying with the food safety legislation and making safe cheese.”

On 4 September, the Sheriff is expected to make directions on what is to happen next regarding the cheese and costs. However, South Lanarkshire Council was likely to appeal the judgement, said Cairns.

E.coli outbreak timeline

July 2016: ​Twenty-two people suffer E.coli food poisoning, linked to two batches of Dunsyre Blue Cheese, manufactured by Lanarkshire-based Errington Cheese. A three-year-old girl subsequently dies.

17 August 2016: ​The owner of Errington Cheese accuses Health Protection Scotland and Food Standards Scotland (FSS) of having a campaign against unpasteurised cheese.

8 September 2016: ​FSS declares that the outbreak of E.coli 0157​ in Scotland is over.

15 September 2016: ​FSS bans the sale and orders a recall of all Errington Cheese’s products.

24 October 2016: ​The owner of Errington Cheese wins a battle to keep £20,000 of the company’s stock, after FSS withdrew its order to destroy all remaining cheese following its alleged link to the July E.coli outbreak.

31 October 2016: ​Errington Cheese petitions for a judicial review to overturn FSS’ total ban on the sale of its cheeses.

7 November 2016: ​Errington Cheese is given the all clear by a leading European food safety laboratory.

11 November 2016: ​FSS rejects claims it offered to pay the cheesemaker’s legal fees in full, in return for the firm dropping its application for a judicial review of a destruction of Errington’s stock.

30 March 2017: ​Health Protection Scotland concludes the source of the Scottish E.coli O157​ outbreak was Errington Cheese’s Dunsyre Blue raw cheese, but the cheesemaker insists more evidence is needed.

9 July 2018: ​The results of the civil case held at Hamilton Sheriff Court in January finds that Errington Cheese is complying with hygiene regulations.

17 August 2018: ​Errington cheese lays off its last two employees as sales fall to less than 25% of their value two years ago.

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