Meat processor battles for survival after E. coli death

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Foodborne illness Escherichia coli Food safety

A UK cooked meat processor is fighting in court to reopen after it
was closed down in the wake of an outbreak of E. coli 0157 that
resulted in the death of a five-year-old boy and caused sickness in
scores of schoolchildren.

John Tudor & Sons, which supplied schools, retirement homes and retail outlets, also faces a police criminal investigation into food safety practices in relation to disinfection procedures andits vacuum packing process at its plant in South Wales.

The closure, and court battle, serves as warning to the processing industry that a company's future lies in the hands of its plant food safety managers.

In addition to the damage toreputation, food contamination can lead to huge expenses due to product recalls, fines and loss of market share.

In the case of John Tudor the firm faces extinction as an entity. If the firm is shown to be lax in its procedures its managers could end up in a criminal court.

The outbreak in September occurred in schools throughout south Wales. John Tudor & Sons, which supplied the schools with cooked meats, was forced to withdraw its products. It was thenshut down and its plant in South Wales was cordoned off.

A spokesperson at the firm said yesterday that John Tudor, the owner, was unavailable for comment as he was travelling. The spokesperson told that no one else was availablefor comment on the court issue.

A telephone call to the company's lawyer, Huw Davies, was not returned.

Previously, in September, spokesman Calyn Williams disputing claims by the UK's Food Standards Agency that the firm's cooked meat products led to the infection of 161 people, many of them schoolchildren, with E. coli 0157. The outbreak occurred throughout south Wales, most of them at 42 schools.

"There is no evidence yet that the outbreak is linked to us,"​ Williams told "We are waiting for the results of the health tests. We have no furthercomment to make."

The firm, based in Bridgend, South Wales, closed down voluntarily when the food poisoning outbreak occured. Local officials later issued an emergency notice stopping the company from trading.

Police sealed off the plant on 7 October and launched a criminal investigation into the firm's food safety practices after a boy died from E. coli.

According to UK newspaper reports lawyers acting for the company have already appeared in court arguing that the firm had not been given enough time to prepare their case ahead of a court hearingto close the firm.

The first notice was served on 19 September and the order made later that week. The court has delayed judgement in the case until this week.

According to the BBC the court heard submissions that the prohibition orders were served in relation to John Tudor's disinfection procedures and its vacuum packing process.

The Welsh government has also launched an inquiry into the cause of the outbreak.

European consumers have become increasing concerned about food safety, mainly due to the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) scare in cattle beginning in the late 1980s, a foot and mouth diseaseoutbreak in 2001 and of avian flu in 2003 and this year.

Consumer concerns have in turn led to tougher regulatory action and increased survelliance of safety in food processing plants.

Also in September a Spanish cooked chicken processor owned by Nutreco was fined €600,000 by the country's food regulator for not providing enough information about the ingredients and productionof the cooked chicken during previous inspections by health officials.

Grupo Sada was found to have poisoned 2,700 people who ate its chicken with salmonella. Nutreco is a multinational corporation based in the Netherlands.

This week France's food safety officials are investigating a food poisoning outbreak that has left 18 people seriously ill - most of them young children - from meat bought at Leclercsupermarket.

The meat product was also exported to supermarkets in other EU countries. Several children are in France after consuming packets of frozen minced meat. The meat was found to contain Escherichiacoli, a bacteria found in cows' stomachs.

In some forms, the bacteria can give rise to complication called haemolytic uremic syndrome - a potentially fatal condition. The infected meat is sold in France under the brand name RepereChantegril and was cut and packaged by Soviba.

Related topics Food Safety & Quality

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