Two young girls – one seven years old and the other eleven – contracted E. coli O157 while attending a dance camp in Pembrokeshire, Wales between July 29th and August 9th. Both children are recovering.
Local health authorities are investigating the outbreak; but, with only two cases reported, it's unlikely that the source of the infections will be identified.
This outbreak follows closely on a series of 4 illnesses that were associated with a fish and chip shop near Wrexham (North Wales) in late July. The victims all had eaten different items at The Llay Fish Bar. Two of the four developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a potentially deadly complication of E. coli O157:H7 infections that can strike 5-10% of those who are infected with the microbe. All four victims were infected with the same genetic strain of E. coli O157:H7.
The Llay Fish Bar was closed to facilitate investigation of the outbreak, and several improper hygienic practices have been identified, including poor food handling techniques and lack of proper training for food handlers.
The restaurant had last been inspected by the Wrexham County Borough Council under the Scores on the Doors program in August 2008. At that time, County inspectors rated the restaurant as "No Stars" out of a possible five, indicating that the inspection uncovered poor hygiene conditions and major noncompliance with food legislation.
Scores on the Doors is a program that is in place in a number of jurisdictions in the United States, as well as in some other countries. It offers consumers a snapshot of the hygienic condition of a restaurant or take-out food establishment, and puts additional pressure on low-scoring establishments to clean up – if consumers heed the posted information.
Unfortunately, customers of the Llay Fish Bar apparently did not pay attention to the restaurant's lax hygiene and low inspection scores. Restaurants and other food service establishments bear an important responsibility – to offer their customers food that is safe as well as tasty. But consumers also must be alert to problems and should avoid those establishments with a poor hygiene record, or risk the consequences.