Page last updated at 08:17 GMT, Friday, 20 March 2009

Calls for meat safety data review

A pie being served for a school dinner
Wales still has no agreed system for assessing the safety of food suppliers

A central database on meat suppliers could be set up by the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) following a report into a fatal E.coli outbreak.

It comes after report authors into the 2005 outbreak criticised a council's inspectors for not inspecting a butcher "as well as they should have done".

Mason Jones, five, of Deri, in Bargoed, Caerphilly County, died during the outbreak and 156 others became ill.

Butcher William Tudor was jailed after admitting supplying contaminated meat.

In the report from a public inquiry into the outbreak - Wales' largest - author Professor Hugh Pennington, laid the blame for the outbreak on Tudor, who supplied raw and cooked meat for schools in Bridgend, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Caerphilly and Merthyr Tydfil.

But he also criticised Bridgend Council's Environmental Heath Officers who inspected Tudor's Bridgend premises.

He said "clues were missed" and their inspections did not assess or monitor Tudor's management of food safety as well as they "could", or "should" have done.

John Tudor & Son sign
Food hygiene rules should have been sufficient to prevent the outbreak

The process by which meat supply contracts were awarded to John Tudor and Son in 1998 and 2002 by Rhondda Cynon Taf, Bridgend, Caerphilly and Merthyr Tydfil councils were "seriously flawed", the report also said.

He gave 24 recommendations for what he wants to see put in place to try to prevent an outbreak happening again.

These include additional resources to ensure that all food businesses in Wales understand and implement regulations.

Prof Pennington had also investigated an E.coli outbreak in Scotland 13 years ago, after which he recommended the sharing of information about meat suppliers.

He said it was now a matter of urgency that this was implemented.

It comes as a BBC Wales Week In Week Out investigation discovered that some councils in Wales are unaware of the standard of meat being supplied to schools.

In particular, it found that the supplier of frozen meat to Gwynedd council had scored "weak" for hygiene and management practices in three Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) audits during 2008.

But the authority were not told this as the third party auditing company it uses - The Consortium - did not read the MHS reports.

The MHS said that if a slaughterhouse or cutting plant posed an imminent risk to public health it would be closed down.

Gwynedd council said it has been assured by The Consortium - which spot checks the company - that it is a competent supplier of frozen meat.

However The Consortium has identified some areas where improvements could be made. And will continue closely monitoring the company.

Following the investigation, the WLGA called for more sharing of information about potential suppliers.

It said there was "a possible way forward" on the exchange of such information and WLGA chief executive Steve Thomas said "some database across Wales should be put in place".

Mr Thomas said: "That exchange of information is absolutely key.

"It might be however that some sort of common risk register, some database across Wales should be put in place and could be investigated.

"It may have data implications but could be investigated as a possible way forward to make sure that information sharing is undertaken to common standards."

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