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E.coli fears after checks on butchers

FEARS OF a fresh outbreak of food poisoning by the killer bacteria, E-coli O157 grew yesterday as one in five butchers failed hygiene checks in the area of the last major incident.

Staff working in 12 butchers - out of 64 checked by environmental health officers posing as customers - were not washing their hands between handling cooked and raw meat.

Cross-contamination of food is a key way to spread E-Coli and hand- washing was a main recommendation of the Pennington report on the last large-scale E-coli outbreak in 1996-97 that killed 21 people. The cause was traced to John Barr's, a North Lanarkshire butcher.

The latest inpsection by environmental health officers in North Lanarkshire has led to threats of legal action against the 12 substandard butchers if hygiene does not improve.

The Rev James Davidson, some of whose parishioners died in the original outbreak, asked why the failed butchers were not being taken to court.

"It is surprising and worrying that three years later you still find people making these kinds of mistakes and environmental health officers just say do better next time," he said. "The public should be told who these butchers are, and since the butchers have had plenty of warning, they should go straight to court. It needs that kind of bad publicity to sort this out. A slap on the wrist is not going to work."

Jean Smith, 67, whose elderly parents-in-law died in the Lanarkshire outbreak, said: "It is incredible that many butchers still have not learned the lesson. How many more people must die before they begin to see the seriousness of this issue?"

Elsewhere in Scotland, despite evidence that E-Coli can be spread through hand contact with uncooked meats, some butchers have been slow to take precautions. Last month, an undercover investigation found staff were not reaching required standards of hygiene in 92 per cent of butchers investigated in the West of Scotland.

Yesterday, Tom Maginnis, environment vice-convener at North Lanarkshire Council which conducted the latest tests, said no trace of any dangerous infection was found in any of the meat from the shops inspected.