E.coli inquiry to examine food procurement

Paul Snell is managing editor at Supply Management
22 May 2006

Public procurement of food in Wales will be scrutinised by a public inquiry to investigate last year's E.coli outbreak.

The Welsh Assembly has responded to calls for an inquiry after a five-year-old boy died and more than 150 people were affected by the illness in September 2005. The initial source of the food poisoning was found to be school dinners, and cases of the virus were reported at 42 schools.

The inspection of procurement policy will form part of the inquiry's mandate to consider the implications of the outbreak.

The issue of schools' food procurement and its role in the incident was first mentioned during a cross-party committee at the Welsh Assembly. The committee was set up to prioritise the inquiry's lines of investigation.

The Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) asked the committee to look at the recommendations made in its study, Food for Thought - A new approach to public sector food. The study sets out guidelines for the best way to procure food in Wales, urging food quality to be prioritised over lowest price.

Steve Thomas, director of the WLGA, told the committee: "I hope that the inquiry will look at some of the major recommendations in that report, because at the heart of that lie many of the issues that are central to this outbreak."

Microbiologist Professor Hugh Pennington will chair the inquiry. He led the investigation into the E.coli outbreak in Scotland 1996, in which 18 people died and another 272 cases of the virus were confirmed.

Pennington has asked members of the public to come forward with information about the incident in Wales.

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