Errington Cheese has been forced to lay off the last two members of staff that were still remaining, after sales dropped massively since 2016.
The cheesemaker was hit by a fatal outbreak of E.coli O157 which, despite officially being cleared of resulting from hygiene breaches, destroyed consumer confidence in the brand.
Back in 2016, Errington Cheese was accused of serious breaches of hygiene regulations when an outbreak of E.coli resulted from their products. A ruling was later made that cleared the company of wrongdoing, but the damage had already been done for them. The Scottish cheesemaker has been in decline since the news broke, causing losses of manufacturing jobs.
It was only after recently receiving the all-clear from their civil case that the company had to fold. The Hamilton Sheriff Court found that Errington Cheese had complied fully with hygiene regulations – but the ruling did not force South Lanarkshire Council to release the cheese that it had originally seized. This included one batch of Errington’s Lanark Blue cheese and three batches of its Corra Linn, which were suspected of containing harmful pathogens.
Co-owner Selina Cairns said she has been trying to contact Food Standards Scotland (FSS), to get them to update their warnings and allegations that were posted on their website. The allegation wrote about potential deficiencies in the Errington system as well as their risk management policies, and put out a food alert for their cheeses. Cairns has written to them, but to no avail.
“They have refused, so in essence the FAFA [Food Alert for Action] is still in place regarding the Corra Linn from 2016, so I would be unable to sell it anyway,” she said. “We have also heard that FSS is ‘fuming’ about the result of the judgement. Bizarre really – you would expect that they would be pleased to know that we were complying with the food safety legislation and making safe cheese.”
It is expected that the Sheriff will soon make a decision about what will happen with the seized cheese and the court costs, but it has come too late. On top of this, South Lanarkshire Council are thought to be likely to appeal the judgement.
Cairns said that it was with a “heavy heart” that they finally had to close the doors at Errington, laying off the two members of staff who had been left in food jobs at the company. “I feel really terrible as they have stood by me over the past couple of years,” she said. “My sales of cheese are less than 25% of what they were two years ago, and because the sales are going to be reduced again by 50%, I simply cannot afford to pay their wages.”
The outbreak began in July 2016, when 22 people fell ill with E.coli poisoning that was linked to two batches of Dunsyre Blue manufactured by Errington Cheese. Sadly, a three-year-old girl lost her life as a result of the poisoning. In August, the owner of the company spoke out to accuse Health Protection Scotland and Food Standards Scotland of carrying out a campaign against unpasteurised cheese, designed to shut down their business.
In September, the E.coli outbreak was declared to be over – but just a week later, FSS banned the sale of Errington Cheese products and ordered a recall of all of their currently available batches. There was originally an order to destroy all of the stock, but Errington Cheese won a ruling that allowed them to keep £20,000 of their stock in October. Further legal battles ensued despite the all clear.