E. coli O157 outbreaks in the United Kingdom: past, present, and future
Thomas Hugh Pennington
University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, United Kingdom
Abstract: This review describes Escherichia coli O157 outbreaks in the United Kingdom, beginning from the first, in the 1980s, to those recorded in 2013. We point out that the United Kingdom differs from other countries, particularly the United States, in that it has had a considerable number of outbreaks associated with butchers, but very few caused by contaminated burgers. Two of the butcher-associated outbreaks (in central Scotland in 1996 and South Wales in 2005) were very large and are considered here in detail; the reviewer conducted detailed investigations into both outbreaks. Also considered is the very large outbreak that occurred in visitors to an open farm in Surrey in 2009. Detailed descriptions of some milk-borne outbreaks and incidents connected with camping and childrens' nurseries have been published, and these are also considered in this review. Large outbreaks in the United Kingdom have sometimes led to policy developments regarding food safety, and these are considered, together with public reactions to them, their health effect, and their value, as examples to follow or eschew in terms of the procedures to be adopted in response to incidents of this kind. Regulatory and legal consequences are also considered. As a wise man said, making predictions is difficult, particularly about the future. This review follows this position but points out that although human infections caused by E. coli O157 are rare in the United Kingdom, their incidence has not changed significantly in the last 17 years. This review points out that although a response to an outbreak is to say "lessons must be learned", this response has been tempered by forgetfulness. Accordingly, this review restricts its recommendations regarding outbreaks to two: the crucial importance of a rapid response and the importance of experience, and even "gut feeling", when an inspector is evaluating the safety of a food business.
Keywords: E. coli O157, outbreaks, UK
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