Public Health England (PHE) recorded 151 cases of a strain of E. coli across the UK, with a further 62 individuals requiring hospital care alongside the two who died.
Dr Isabel Oliver, director of field epidemiology at PHE, said: “PHE has been working to establish the cause of the outbreak and has identified that several of the affected individuals ate mixed salad leaves, including rocket leaves, prior to becoming unwell.
“Currently, the source of the outbreak is not confirmed and remains under investigation; we are not ruling out other food items as a potential source.”
Food safety expert Dr Lisa Ackerley told The Morning Advertiser that, whilst the source of the outbreak was still unconfirmed, it was imperative caterers worked with their suppliers to safeguard themselves.
She said: “Those good companies, such as caterers who’ve got a four or five (Food Hygiene Rating), should already be doing that - EHOs will be looking for that during their inspections.”
E. coli precautions for operators:
- Cook burgers to a temperature that will thoroughly kill bacteria
- Wash salad items, fresh herbs and soft fruits and store away from any potential areas of cross contamination
- If using frozen spinach or other veg, check that these items are ready-to-eat as they may be intended for cooking only
E. coli can cause a variety of unpleasant symptoms, including bloody diarrhoea and severe abdominal pain.
E. coli can be caught by eating contaminated food or through direct contact with infected animals, and can be fatal.
Ackerley said: “E. coli is most often associated with undercooked burgers, but in fact it has been found in many other foods which have been contaminated with faecal matter.”
PHE is working with the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to try and trace the source of the outbreak, testing salad products grown in the UK and across Europe.
It has additionally advised a number of wholesalers to cease adding some imported rocket leaves to their mixed salad products pending further investigations.