In November 2019, an outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O157:H7 was detected in South Yorkshire, England. Initial investigations established consumption of milk from a local dairy as a common exposure. A sample of pasteurised milk tested the next day failed the phosphatase test, indicating contamination of the pasteurised milk by unpasteurised (raw) milk. The dairy owner agreed to immediately cease production and initiate a recall. Inspection of the pasteuriser revealed a damaged seal on the flow divert valve.
Ultimately, there were 21 confirmed cases linked to the outbreak, of which 11 (52%) were female, and 12/21 (57%) were either <15 or >65 years of age. Twelve (57%) patients were treated in hospital, and three cases developed haemolytic uraemic syndrome. Although the outbreak strain was not detected in the milk samples, it was detected in faecal samples from the cattle on the farm. Outbreaks of gastrointestinal disease caused by milk pasteurisation failures are rare in the UK. However, such outbreaks are a major public health concern as, unlike unpasteurised milk, pasteurised milk is marketed as ‘safe to drink’ and sold to a larger, and more dispersed, population. The rapid, co-ordinated multi-agency investigation initiated in response to this outbreak undoubtedly prevented further cases.