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Testing at Kirkham’s shows no E.coli after December’s high-profile recall

Posted: 22 January 2024

By Patrick McGuigan


Tests carried out on Kirkham’s milk, premises and Lancashire cheese have found no trace of the E.coli strain responsible for a food poisoning outbreak, despite food authorities linking the cheese to the outbreak in a highly publicised recall.

On Christmas eve, the FSA and UKHSA issued a precautionary recall of Kirkham’s Lancashire, linking the cheese to shiga toxin-producing E. coli 0145. The rare strain, which is not part of required testing, is responsible for making around 30 people ill, resulting in one fatality, over a five-month period.

However, as FFD went to press, no evidence of the pathogen had been found in 60 tests of Kirkham’s cheese and five analyses of its milk, while its manufacturing processes had been inspected and given the all clear. Kirkham’s has now started making cheese again.

“We have been ‘SALSA + Cheese’ accredited since 2015 and have been making cheese for 46 years; we have never experienced anything like this before,” said owner Graham Kirkham. “Batches over a five-month period have been tested and the dairy has been swabbed, and nothing has been found. Our farm and milking practices have been praised by inspectors. We keep being told we’ve done nothing wrong, but our reputation has been battered. We’re in limbo.”

He added that of 31 people infected with the strain, only eight said they had eaten Kirkham’s cheese. Of these, seven had eaten mixed cheese and charcuterie plates served by a third party. Other products are also being investigated, he said.

The recall, which saw press camped outside Kirkham’s farm near Preston, was initiated on “epidemiological and food chain links”. This involves analysing health data and information from questionnaires completed by people who have been ill.

“Efforts continue to confirm the source of the outbreak and to ensure that food placed on the market going forward is safe,” said Tina Potter, head of incidents at the FSA. “Epidemiological and food chain links are a reliable means of confirming an outbreak source. It’s not always possible to obtain microbiological evidence of the outbreak strain in foods in an outbreak investigation, as the foods are often already consumed or no longer available for sampling.”

She added that the cheeses that have been tested were “not the actual cheeses consumed by cases who became ill”, while products listed in the recall “continue to be implicated”. She urged consumers to follow the recall advice.