E.coli O157: control of cross-contamination

Last updated:
18 December 2014
Guidance for food businesses to clarify the steps that they need to take to control the risk of food becoming contaminated by E.coli O157 and what businesses should be doing to protect their customers.

The guidance can also be used by local authority food safety officers when inspecting businesses in their area.

The guidance has been developed in response to the serious outbreaks of E.coli O157 in Scotland in 1996 and Wales in 2005, which were attributed to cross-contamination arising from poor handling of food.

Although E.coli is the key focus of this guidance, the measures outlined will also help in the control of other bacteria, such as campylobacter and salmonella.

This guidance was revised and updated in July 2014 and along with other related items can be found at the bottom of the page.

Key measures

Some of the key measures highlighted in the guidance to control E.coli are that:

  • Businesses need to ensure that work areas, surfaces and equipment for raw and ready to eat food are adequately separated, either by physical separation or time separation, and is dependent on what is feasible for the business. Identification of separate work areas, surfaces and equipment for raw and ready-to-eat food.
  • Complex equipment, such as vacuum packing machines, slicers, and mincers should not be used for both raw and ready to eat food during the normal operations of a business. These machines need to be fully dismantled and all surfaces cleaned and disinfected if a business wants to change the use of the machine from raw to ready to eat foods. In practice, it is unlikely to be practical for a business to regularly change the use of vacuum packers as a competent engineer would need to undertake what is a complicated dismantling and reassembling process. However, cleaning and disinfection to allow a more permanent change of use, for example to re-commission and buy and sell second-hand vacuum packers, may be feasible. In the case of slicers and mincers, dismantling, cleaning and disinfecting may be more straightforward but is unlikely to be feasible during normal business operations.
  • Other types of complex equipment, such as temperature probes, mixers and weighing scales, may be used for both raw and ready to eat food subject to the business being able to demonstrate that such equipment will be effectively disinfected between uses.
  • Handwashing should be carried out using a recognised technique. Anti-bacterial gels must not be used instead of thorough handwashing.
  • Disinfectants and sanitisers must meet officially recognised standards and should be used as instructed by the manufacturer.