Errington Cheese disputes Dunsyre Blue E. coli allegations
One of Scotland’s best-known cheeses has been named by authorities as the possible source for an E.coli outbreak, despite extensive tests showing no sign of the bacteria in the cheese or at the dairy.
Cheesemaker Selina Cairns, who runs Errington Cheese in Lanarkshire, told FFD that she had experienced “the worst few weeks of my life” after Health Protection Scotland (HPS) said on July 29 that the company’s Dunsyre Blue raw cows’ milk cheese could be responsible for an E. coli 0157 outbreak, which made 18 people ill in May and July – 14 in Scotland and four in England.
The government body, which is working with Foods Standards Scotland and other government agencies to investigate and manage the outbreak, identified the cheese after initial investigations indicated a number of people had consumed Dunsyre Blue prior to feeling unwell. The case was widely reported across the national media.
However, the bacteria has not been found in any of Errington’s cheeses, including cheese from one of the two batches that were voluntarily recalled by the company.
Extensive testing in the dairy and at the farm from where the milk is sourced also failed to find any sign of E. coli 0157.
“We’ve carried out lots of testing with a consultant from the Specialist Cheesemakers Association and haven’t found anything,” Cairns told FFD in mid-August.
“The authorities have based their decision [to name Dunsyre Blue] on statistical analysis. Some people said they had eaten the cheese, but some hadn’t. With other cheese recalls [from other producers], they’ve found problems with the actual cheese, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. It doesn’t make sense to us.”
She added: “People will remember there has been a recall, but they won’t read that nothing has been found. It’s not a good message for cheese as a whole.”
Dr Syed Ahmed, clinical director at HPS, said in a statement: “The majority of cases have consumed Dunsyre Blue while eating out, but members of the public who purchased Dunsyre Blue cheese between May 18 and July 29, and still have the product in their fridges, should return it to the retailer where they purchased the product or dispose of it.”
Cairns’ father Humphrey Errington, who founded the business, famously fought a long legal battle in the 1990s against Clydesdale Council after it claimed to have found listeria in his unpasteurised Lanark Blue sheep’s milk cheese.
Errington’s own rigorous testing found no sign of the pathogen, leading to a well-publicised court case, which called into question the council’s methodology and ended in victory for Errington.