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Deadly E. coli strain traced to Gilde slaughterhouse

By Ahmed ElAmin , 05-May-2006

A slaughterhouse partially owned by meat supplier Gilde was contaminated with a virulent strain of the E. coli bacteria that hospitalized about a dozen children and resulted in one death, Norway's food safety authority said yesterday.

Since the outbreak in March this year Gilde has been fighting to clear its name. It's was Gilde that produced a private label brand of cured sausages that were eventually linked to E. coli outbreak and the death, serving as warning to the processing industry that a company's future lies in the hands of its plant food safety managers.

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

A month after the outbreak, Gilde was found to have sent nearly 600 kilos of potentially dangerous salami to shops instead of destruction.

Gilde Tønsberg had sent out nearly 600 kilos of salami suspected of being E. coli contaminated to shops in Vestfold County and other areas in eastern Norway. Gilde since issued an apology for the mistake and received a warning from the food authority.

According to Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten Gilde has since scrapped plans for the launch of a new cured sausage full of beneficial bacteria called probiotics, which was to be produced by a plant in Sogndal associated with the E. coli outbreak.

The newspaper reported yesterday that Gilde owns 34 per cent of Meråker Kjøtt (Meat), the slaughterhouse to which the outbreak has been traced. the remainder of the company is privately owned.

Meråker Kjøtt supplies sheep meat to Gilde's facility in Tynset, where the E. coli bacteria was found in March.

The food safety agency reported in March that Lidl has reported finding the E coli 103 contamination in ground beef in its "Gullgrytten" brand of ground beef. The meat is processed at the Gilde Fosen plant, and is ground and packaged by Vestfold Kjøttråvare.

When the find was made the food authority made the unusual request of asking the public to return or throw away all minced meat products made from beef - regardless of their origin - which were bought during the period from 1 January until 24 February this year.

The request caused an uproar among meat producers, who threatened to sue the authority.

"We will demand full compensation from the Food Safety Authority, if necessary by filing a lawsuit," Rolf Aass of the Meat Industry's National Federation (KLF) told newspaper Dagsavisen.

The case is similar to the E. coli outbreak in Wales, the UK last year, which ended up in the closure of a meat processing company. The outbreak of E. coli 0157 in November last year 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, was later investigated by food inspectors in relation to disinfection procedures and its vacuum packing process at its plant in South Wales.

The plant reopened in December but management has since decided to close for good, making all staff redundant.