FSS defends itself over Errington Cheese case

By Michelle Perrett and Aidan Fortune

- Last updated on GMT

The battle between Errington Cheese and Food Standards Scotland is continuing
The battle between Errington Cheese and Food Standards Scotland is continuing
Food Standards Scotland (FSS) has defended itself against accusations concerning its actions in the Errington Cheese case.

FSS said it was aware of “ongoing commentary”​ around the case.

The Scottish cheesemaker was implicated in the case of a fatal E.coli 0157 outbreak in 2016.  A Health Protection Scotland (HPS) report claimed that its Dunsyre Blue raw cheese was the source of the outbreak. FSS backed the investigation’s findings.

According to a BBC report the cheesemaker has called for compensation from South Lanarkshire Council after Hamilton Sheriff Court lifted an order stopping the company’s Lanark Blue and Corra Linn from being sold.

Owner Humphrey Errington told the BBC: ​“People may ask why taxpayers in South Lanarkshire should be forced to pay this bill if we are successful but the real culprit is Food Standards Scotland who forced the issue​.”

FSS has said it was “publicly accountable”​ but said it did not act alone during a major food incident.

In this instance, it said, it was one of several agencies and 60 individuals representing HPS, NHS Health Boards, South Lanarkshire Council and other local authorities.

It said that extensive investigations”​ into the possible cause of the E.coli O157 outbreak of 2016 were undertaken. It said these were “extensive”​ and “exhaustive”.

This included not just looking at a range of possible food sources, but also at possible factors common to all of the patients interviewed, such as recent travel, environmental factors etc.  

It said the recent Sheriff Court proceedings did not relate to Dunsyre Blue cheese and therefore the court did not have the opportunity to review the large body of evidence considered by the Incident Management Team during the outbreak.

It also said that the epidemiology (the spread of the disease and identification of the source) is being challenged in a report by Professor Norman Noah.

However, neither FSS nor HPS have had sight of this report, despite requests, and so have had no opportunity to respond to its conclusions.

There have been calls for an independent review of FSS’ actions and decisions but it said that an independent review​ had already been undertaken under a co-operative agreement between the central food authorities of New Zealand and those of the UK.

The New Zealand government reviewers “find the risk management decisions made and actions taken by the Competent Authorities SLC ​[South Lanarkshire Council] and FSS are reasonable and proportionate in regard to protecting public health.”

Errington Cheese response

In response to the FSS statement, the owners of Errington Cheese issued its own statement refuting the points made.

It said: “We were told at the end of July 2016, when the IMT had only just been set up, that Dunsyre Blue was the only possible cause being investigated, i.e. the investigation did not lead to Dunsyre Blue, it began with Dunsyre Blue and looked at almost nothing else.”

The statement also tacked FSS’ claim that it “does not act alone”​.

“FSS was the body responsible for investigating food links to the illness and in particular for investigating Errington Cheese Ltd and its hygiene controls.”

It added that the New Zealand review is “largely concerned with patting FSS on the back for their decision to issue FAFA’s and not to any meaningful extent concerned with the validity of the IMT conclusion regarding Dunsyre Blue as the cause of the outbreak”​.

“At no point over the past two years have HPS or FSS answered our concerns regarding the outbreak investigation and we do intend to challenge it in some way in court if there is indeed a way.”

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