We received the judgement from the court case in January regarding our sheep’s milk cheese made in 2016, I am pleased to say that the Sherriff’s decision was that Errington Cheese were complying with the hygiene regulations during the period the cheese is safe to eat.
The exception is one batch of Lanark Blue which it was alleged contained an identical unidentified Ecoli (STEC) to that found in one batch of Dunsyre Blue and three batches of Corra Linn which contained other unknown strains of ecoli which have been condemned due to ‘potential’ pathogenicity. We are disappointed with this conclusion as we had hoped the Sherriff would follow the approach to STEC advocated by the EU commission which is based on risk assessment, but we understand that the sheriff felt the need to be extra cautious.
It remains a problem that the validated testing methodology for STEC in Food in the EU available to food business would not identify the strains of ecoli found in these 4 batches of condemned cheese (by Whole Genome Sequencing), so quite how a regulator should be regulating food business remains an issue which we had hoped would be clarified in this judgement, but will need to be addressed by the regulators, particularly into food stuff where small (in our case vanishingly small as the sheriff stated in the judgement) amounts of ecoli are naturally found and can not be completely eliminated such as raw milk cheese, charcuterie, salad, fruit etc.
However we pleased he agreed with our own experts that Ecoli O157:H42 stx negative is non pathogenic and completely harmless ‘bog standard’ ecoli, contradicting the opinion of the public analyst form Edinburgh Scientific services and SERL. This erroneous opinion has been consistently maintained by Food Standards Scotland.
I would also like to say that I had not at any point indicated that I was intending to put these four batches on the market and the reason for pursuing this through the courts was the accusation that a years worth of cheese was unsafe and complete shut down of our business and livelihood rather than allowing me the option of disposing of these 4 batches and selling the 80 batches of Lanark Blue and 70 batches of Corra Linn following testing.
I do believe South Lanarkshire Council would have been willing to discuss this rationally, however unfortunately it was clear to me their hands were tied by Food Standards Scotland who did not wish to discuss the possibility. As Food Standards Scotland are the ‘Competent Authority’ South Lanarkshire Council were obliged to follow their direction. Unfortunately the whole episode has cost not only us our business and reputation and staff their jobs but the tax payer has had to foot the bill for something that could easily have been avoided if Food Standards Scotland were prepared to meet us and discuss in a rational manner, taken advice from dairy experts and followed the conclusions from their own auditors (pre and post outbreak) and the environmental health officers familiar with our business prior to July 2016, rather than operating a blinkered approach with the hope that if they kept repeating that our Food Safety Management system had failed it would somehow become true.
The judgement contradicts what Food Standards Scotland has been saying repeatedly in public that our Food Safety Management system was deficient and led them to the conclusion that Dunsyre Blue caused the 2016 Ecoli O157 outbreak. Failure of my Food Safety Management system is identified in the IMT report into the outbreak as one of the reasons why it was believed that Dunsyre Blue was responsible.
It remains a frustration for us that there appears to be no way for us to challenge the epidemiological and microbiological conclusions in the report which contradict our own experts. Our own views and that of our experts have at no time been considered when drawing up the conclusion into the outbreak which is very upsetting considering the magnitude of what we have been accused of.
We would like to express our profound gratitude to all our experts and all those who have so generously supported us through this process.
I really hope that no other small business will have to go though such a harrowing and stressful process driven by a ‘Competent Authority’ in such an aggressive manner when the business is operating within the law and to industry standards verified by external auditing both carried out by Local authority, checked by ‘Competent Authority’ and independently by SALSA + SCA.