E. coli contamination guidance

Escherichia coli O157 (E. coli O157) is a dangerous type of bacteria which can cause food poisoning. It can cause serious illness and could be fatal, especially for vulnerable people such as infants, young children and elderly people. Only a small number of bacteria is needed to cause illness. Bacteria such as E. coli O157 are invisible to the naked eye, so they can easily be spread to food without you realising. These bacteria could make your customers seriously ill. and can even kill. Food businesses must practise good food hygiene at all times to make sure the food they produce is safe.

The E.coli O157 Guidance (external link) was developed following two serious outbreaks of E. coli O157 in Scotland in 1996 (4496 cases with 21 deaths) and in Wales in 2005 (157 cases with one death). These outbreaks were due to cross contamination arising from the poor handling of food. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) issued new guidance for caterers which was updated in December 2021. Although E. coli is the key focus of this guidance, the measures outlined will also help in the control of other harmful bacteria.

The E. coli O157 bacteria has been found in raw meat, unpasteurised milk, vegetables, sprouted seeds and salad vegetables.

If your business handles raw food, in the same establishment as ready-to-eat food, there will be a greater risk. Cooking foods to above 75ºc kills the bacteria, but some of the foods listed are often eaten without being cooked. Foods can easily be contaminated with bacteria after cooking through cross contamination if food handling and preparation practices are poor. Raw food, such as meat, fruit, herbs and vegetables should be handled as if they are contaminated by E. coli O157.

The key control measures involve:

  • separation of equipment and staff involved in handling raw food from staff that handle ready-to-eat food
  • effective cleaning and disinfection
  • personal hygiene and handwashing

If there has been a risk of contamination, all work must stop until the surfaces and equipment in the area have been sufficiently cleaned and disinfected or replaced. Any potential contaminated food should not be supplied for consumption. If it is suspected that contaminated food has gone to consumers, appropriate action must be taken.

For further information please contact the Commercial Team at foodandsafety@eastcambs.gov.uk  or telephone 01353 665555.