12 March 1999

Steps to limit E coli dangers

STEPS could be taken to reduce risk of E coli infection from drinking raw milk to protect producers families and the public.

Following last weeks E coli outbreak in Cumbria, vet consultant Tony Andrews says most dairy herds are infected to some degree with E coli 0157.

It is hard to detect, often goes unnoticed as livestock arent affected and can be a lingering threat to human health, says Dr Andrews. Children, pregnant women and the elderly are most at risk because they have susceptible immunity systems.

"As a precaution these people should drink pasteurised milk to reduce risk of infection," he says. But on-farm risks can be reduced by washing skin and clothing contaminated with cow muck away from family areas. Children should also be kept away from livestock.

The Dairy Industry Federations milk processing expert Ed Kom-orowski says that despite environmental health officers being responsibile for routine checks of pasteurisation equipment, there is now greater need for producer-processors to show they make and record their own checks between visits.

"Processors should carry out and record four straightforward checks," he suggests. Each week, temperature charts – thermographs – should be matched with readings on the units calibrated thermometer. In cases of doubt the latter is more accurate.

A fortnightly test to check phosphatase enzymes have been killed will indicate whether milk has been adequately heat treated. Likewise, diversion values to redirect milk which hasnt been treated at least 74 degrees C should be checked daily. Heat exchanges should also be checked annually by a specialist to see whether they are punctured.

"I do not expect further regulations to follow this incident, but EHO inspections are likely to be more thorough and I would encourage that," says Dr Komorowski.

NFU officials say all producers must continue to improve parlour, tank room and milking equipment hygiene, and also the appearance in and around milking areas.

NFU milk committee delegate Alistair Wannop, who milks 300 cows at Linstock Castle, Carlisle, says the public should be able to walk into a parlour and leave feeling secure their morning pint is safe.

"Look at the dairy as the first link in the food chain and not just as a part of the farm. Many producers have improved hygiene to meet milk buyers requirements and it must continue," adds Mr Wannop. &#42