14 February 1997

Stay clean for E coli safety

GOOD hygiene and keeping cattle as clean as possible should minimise the risk of E coli 0157 infection – the cause of recent food poisoning outbreaks – in farmers, their staff and families, and further down the food chain.

Infection from cattle is not common, but the consequences may be very serious, says Barti Synge, Inverness-based Scottish Agricultural College regional vet investigation officer.

"E coli bacteria live in the gut of animals and humans, and are vital for digestion. The E coli strain causing concern has no effect on cattle, but it is harmful to humans. It is found in animal faeces, but an SAC survey found only 0.25% of samples from 5000 cattle contained the organism.

"Another study showed that out of 10 people infected, improperly pasteurised or raw milk was the source of infection in three cases; the others were due to direct contact with cattle or contamination of food after contact with cattle," says Mr Synge.

Good hygiene is vital, he says. Overalls should be removed and hands washed before eating.

And as the bacteria is carried in faeces, keeping cattle clean is important, he says.