The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has issued guidance to clarify the steps that food businesses will be expected to take in order to control the risk of contamination from E. coli O157. You should be aware that serious illness and death can result from serving food contaminated with E. coli O157. Controlling and preventing the spread of this organism is a high food safety priority in all businesses handling raw and ready-to-eat foods.

The guidance has been developed in response to the serious outbreaks of E. coli O157 food poisoning in Scotland in 1996 and Wales in 2005 and the recommendations of Professor Hugh Pennington's report into the 2005 outbreak.

The guidance clearly sets out the necessary steps you should be taking and covers in some detail how to prevent cross-contamination of ready-to-eat foods and thereby protect your customers from a potentially fatal infection. Whilst preventing cross contamination of ready-to-eat foods is not a new requirement the emergence of E. coli O157 as a serious and potentially fatal infection has resulted in this new guidance which aims to address the failures that lead to the two outbreaks mentioned above.

You may already have adopted some or all of these key measures in relation to your business, however we will be expecting you to have put all the necessary control measures in place to control the risk from E. coli O157. The Food Safety Agency guidance clearly puts the seriousness of failing to control cross-contamination by E. coli O157 into context; the sanctions to be considered for non-compliance can be serious and include:

  • Seizure and destruction of all food not produced in accordance with statutory hygiene requirements;
  • The serving of Hygiene Emergency Prohibition Notices to prohibit the use of equipment, parts of premises or whole premise where cross-contamination is not being properly controlled.

Key Measures Highlighted in the Guidance

Outlined below are the key areas that must be addressed and we will be looking at these in detail on our next inspection of your business.

You must use and identify separate work areas, separate surfaces and separate equipment for raw and ready-to- eat foods.

You must use separate complex equipment, such as vacuum packing machines, slicers and mincers for raw and ready-to-eat foods.

You must ensure good personal hygiene by all staff including handwashing carried out using an effective technique. Anti-bacterial gels cannot be used instead of handwashing with soap and water.

Disinfectants and sanitisers should conform to British Standards set by BS EN 1276:1997 or BS EN 13697:2001 These products should always be used in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions.