Fresh Produce Consortium criticises Health Protection Agency (HPA) for failing to consult over E.Coli outbreak

UK health authorities have been slammed by the Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC) for failing to properly engage with the industry over an investigation into an outbreak of E.coli 0157 PT8 in the UK.

FPC slams lack of industry consultation over E. Coli - image: Morguefile
FPC slams lack of industry consultation over E. Coli - image: Morguefile
The Health Protection Agency (HPA) revealed in a public statement issued on September 30 that there is a "statistically significant association" between the outbreak and raw loose leeks and sacks of potatoes.

The exact source of the outbreak, however, has not been traced.

FPC is concerned that the finger of blame is being unfairly pointed at the fresh produce industry –as happened this summer during Europe’s deadly E. Coli outbreak.

HPA stated that the link to fresh vegetables was made by statistical analysis of just 30 cases, from the total of 250, and based on people recalling what they had eaten.

It advised the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in June of the potential link to the preparation of loose potatoes and leeks – implicating the soil in loose products as a potential link between cases to the outbreak.

However, the fresh produce industry was not informed until 20 July of the potential link to fresh vegetables.

FPC chief executive Nigel Jenney said: "It’s vital that UK authorities liaise and share information with us much sooner, and that they understand more about industry processes as part of any thorough investigation before pointing the finger at certain sectors of the food industry. Instead we are being blamed without being given the opportunity to review the evidence on which this conclusion is based,"

FPC also raised concerns with the HPA, the Food Standards Agency and Defra about the publication of any public health statement until the final report of the HPA investigation is completed and is made available.

However, the authorities went ahead and issued the public statement anyway.

 

Facts

- The E. coli strain involved in the UK outbreak (E. Coli 0157 PT8) is unrelated to the recent E. Coli outbreaks in France and Germany.

- It occurred in the UK from December 2010 – infecting 250 people - and the outbreak officially closed in July 2011.

- The majority of cases were mild to moderate but 74 people were assessed in hospital.

- Four developed Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome (HUS) and one patient with underlying health problems died.

Dr Bob Adak, a gastrointestinal disease expert at the HPA and head of the multi-agency Outbreak Control Team said: "Our study showed a statistically significant association with raw loose leeks and potatoes from sacks but these vegetables may not be the only source of contamination."

"We also want to stress that it is safe to eat these vegetables as long as they have been stored correctly, thoroughly washed before cooking and good kitchen hygiene practices are followed."


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