Meat safety to be 'sixth sense'

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Food hygiene inspectors in Wales are being trained to develop a "sixth sense" for things that are badly wrong, the First Minister Rhodri Morgan said.

He told AMs, inspectors had to be able to tell the difference between "life or death bad practice" and a misdemeanour.

He was responding to an inquiry into Wales' worst E-coli 0157 outbreak, in which a five-year-old boy died and 156 others, mostly children, became ill.

Butcher William Tudor was jailed after admitting supplying contaminated meat.

Mr Morgan said the chair of the inquiry, Professor Hugh Pennington, laid the blame for the outbreak "squarely on the shoulders of William Tudor", who supplied raw and cooked meat for schools in Bridgend, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Caerphilly and Merthyr Tydfil.

But he said that was no reason to lose sight of the general conclusion that the systems in place at the time "should have been sufficient to prevent it". inspectors are not necessarily good box-tickers, and good box-tickers are not necessarily good inspectors.

First Minister Rhodri Morgan

Mason Jones, five, of Deri, in Bargoed, Caerphilly County, died after he ate contaminated cooked meat.

Forty-four schools across the south Wales valleys were affected in the outbreak and 156 people were made ill.

It was the largest outbreak of its kind in Wales, the second biggest in the UK and the sixth largest worldwide.

Prof Pennington, a microbiologist who also investigated an E.coli outbreak in Lanarkshire in 1996, said the outbreak was "particularly shocking" because the systems regulating food safety at the time had been reformed as a result of the 1996 outbreak.


He said the only systems which did their job in the outbreak were in control and clinical, and there had been failures everywhere else.

Mr Morgan said the Pennington report "shone a clear light upon those areas where short-comings were evident and where mistakes had been made".

He said: "As so often, it's not the systems, it's how well or how badly those systems work.

"Good inspectors are not necessarily good box-tickers, and good box-tickers are not necessarily good inspectors.

'Potentially catastrophic'

"Training has to focus on distinguishing between what is a life or death bit of bad practice and what is just a minor misdemeanour in procedure.

"The training of inspectors and their managers is also being examined with the aim of making this more comprehensive, helping them develop a sixth sense of what is potentially catastrophic."

Mr Morgan said all 22 local authorities in Wales were reviewing their policies, procedures and systems in the light of the inquiry report and he would provide a written statement those reviews when they had been completed.

He added that health and care agencies were also looking again at their "out-of-hours" communications procedures to make sure that they were tested and were working as required.

He said assembly government was seeking technical advice over the scientific methods of identifying E.coli 0157 and the cattle most prone to spreading it, to see if better methods can be developed.



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