Public Health England (PHE) is continuing to investigate an outbreak of E. coli 0157 which has affected 109 people to date. Incidents have occurred in England, Wales and Scotland, with the South West of England containing the majority of the outbreaks.

Whilst PHE is continuing to work on establishing the exact cause of the outbreak, several of the affected individuals reported having eaten mixed salad leaves prior to becoming unwell. At this stage, PHE are not ruling out other food items as a potential source. Dr Isabel Oliver, director of PHE’s field epidemiology service has stressed the importance of good hand and food hygiene practices at all time, encouraging people to ensure hands and washed and cleaned before handling food and that all vegetables that are to be eaten raw are thoroughly washed. Dr Oliver has however stated that whilst these measures may reduce the risk of infection from any E. coli contaminated food, it will “not eliminate any risk of infection completely”.

What is E. coli O157?

E.coli is the name of the bacteria Escherichia coli that is found in the large intestine of mammals and birds. Some strains of E.coli called verocytotoxin-producing E. coli produce a toxin which causes illness.

Symptoms of E.coli poisoning can include mild diarrhoea, vomiting, fever and stomach pains, to severe inflammation of the gut. In rare cases complications such as kidney failure and anaemia can occur.

You can get infected with E.coli O157 if you eat infected food, usually meat, unpasteurised milk and cheese; come into contact with infected animals, such as at a petting farm; through contact with people with poor personal hygiene who handle food you eat; by eating vegetables infected by manure from infected cattle; or by drinking or swimming in infected water.

The infection can be extremely serious and anyone with the symptoms associated with E.coli O157 poisoning should speak to a medical advisor.

Food safety lawyer Michelle Victor, who has represented a number of people with serious food poisoning illnesses commented:

“It is concerning for such a large number of people, from across the country, to have been affected by this outbreak. Our experience shows that food poisoning illnesses can have a dramatic impact on people’s lives.

“We are pleased that Public Health England are taking this matter seriously, as it is important the original source of the outbreak is identified.”