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Public health lawyer issues E. coli advice following recent outbreak and product recall of Mrs Kirkham's cheese

A person has reportedly died in Scotland after contracting E. coli, a particularly serious bacterial infection commonly caused by contaminated food, following an outbreak connected to contaminated cheese products. The UK Health Security Agency (HSA) has confirmed 30 cases across England and Scotland in patients aged seven to 81.

The HSA has said that the death “has been associated with this outbreak” and added later that it occurred in Scotland, but was unable to provide more information about the case. The agency said that as of 27 December there had been 30 confirmed cases in England and Scotland linked to an outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC). 

Food Standards Agency issues warning 

As a result, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and UKHSA warned the public not to eat the following cheeses:

  1. Mrs Kirkham's Mild & Creamy Lancashire
  2. Mrs Kirkham's Tasty Lancashire
  3. Mrs Kirkham's Mature Lancashire
  4. Mrs Kirkham's Smoked Lancashire
  5. No 1 Waitrose and Partners, Farmhouse Kirkham's Lancashire cheese

When E. coli contaminates cheese, it poses a significant health risk to consumers, particularly to vulnerable people such as children or the elderly.

Dangers of E. coli

Some potential dangers associated with E. coli contamination include:

  • Foodborne illness: Ingesting E. coli-contaminated cheese can result in foodborne illness, causing symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhoea, and vomiting. Severe cases can lead to haemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a condition which can even cause complete kidney failure.
  • Cross-Contamination: If proper hygiene and handling practices are not followed, E. coli from contaminated cheese can spread to other surfaces, utensils, or foods, increasing the risk of further infections.

What's next after an outbreak occurs

When an outbreak occurs, as can be seen by this particular incident, swift actions are taken by regulatory bodies and stakeholders to address the issue and protect consumers, such as the following:

  • Investigation and identification: Regulatory authorities, such as the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the UK, work closely with manufacturers, distributors, and retailers to identify the source of contamination and the specific products involved.
  • Product recalls: If contaminated products are identified, the FSA will usually issue a product recall, notifying the public and advising them to avoid consuming the affected products. Retailers cooperate by removing the products from their shelves and informing customers who may have purchased them.
  • Enhanced hygiene and safety practices: Manufacturers and suppliers are reminded to reinforce good manufacturing practices, including maintaining strict hygiene standards, implementing effective cleaning procedures, and conducting regular testing to ensure the absence of harmful bacteria like E. coli.

The recent cheese outbreak highlights the importance of robust food safety measures. By promptly investigating and identifying the source of contamination, issuing product recalls, and emphasizing hygiene and safety practices, regulatory bodies and industry stakeholders aim to protect consumers from the dangers associated with E. coli-contaminated cheese. It's vital for consumers to stay informed about product recalls and follow the guidance provided to ensure their safety and well-being.

How we can help

As a partner and specialist lawyer in the Public Health team at Irwin Mitchell, I'm all too familiar with the impact of illness outbreaks from contaminated food.  

Over the years, as part of the team, I've supported people affected by E. coli and other serious bacterial infections.  These include the well-known outbreaks of Salmonella at the Real China restaurant in Southampton and the Newcastle Spice Festival. We've also notably acted for people who were seriously affected by the Salmonella contamination in the Mr Porky pork scratchings recall in 2021 and the Cadburys Salmonella outbreak in 2006 where Cadburys was fined £1m.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in handling illness cases at the dedicated section on our website.