In October 2019, public health surveillance systems in Scotland identified an increase in the number of reported infections of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) O26:H11 involving bloody diarrhoea. Ultimately, across the United Kingdom (UK) 32 cases of STEC O26:H11 stx1a were identified, with the median age of 27 years and 64% were male; six cases were hospitalised. Among food exposures there was an association with consuming pre-packed sandwiches purchased at outlets belonging to a national food chain franchise (food outlet A) [odds ratio (OR) = 183.89, P < 0.001]. The common ingredient identified as a component of the majority of the sandwiches sold at food outlet A was a mixed salad of Apollo and Iceberg lettuce and spinach leaves. Microbiological testing of food and environmental samples were negative for STEC O26:H11, although STEC O36:H19 was isolated from a mixed salad sample taken from premises owned by food outlet A. Contamination of fresh produce is often due to a transient event and detection of the aetiological agent in food that has a short-shelf life is challenging. Robust, statistically significant epidemiological analysis should be sufficient evidence to direct timely and targeted on-farm investigations. A shift in focus from testing the microbiological quality of the produce to investigating the processes and practices through the supply chain and sampling the farm environment is recommended.
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- Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli serotype O26:H11
- pre-packed sandwiches
- whole genome sequencing