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Hampshire Watercress firm Vitacress at centre of E.Coli health scare
A HAMPSHIRE firm is today at the centre of an E.Coli outbreak.
Vitacress, who have a site in Alresford, near Winchester, are believed to be the only supplier of watercress to Sainsbury's in the UK, and the supermarket has taken all of its own brand watercress off the shelves after 15 people fell ill with food poisoning.
The Food Standards Agency said that number has since risen to 18.
Sainsbury's is advising people not to consume the product and to return bags to the store they were bought from.
Huw Griffiths, a director at Andover-based Vitacress, said: “This (withdrawal) was a precautionary measure.
“We are undertaking extensive tests and to date we have found no indication of contamination. It's not clear yet what the source of infection is.”
Mr Griffiths said the watercress definitely came from England and that most of his firm's sites were in Hampshire, but did not accept that it was necessarily watercress that caused the problem.
“It's a statistical link. It would be pure supposition to say at this stage where it is from.”
A Sainsbury's spokesperson confirmed the product came from a Hampshire supplier.
“Although no contamination has been found in our products we have as a precautionary measure withdrawn six lines containing watercress.
“We are testing all similar products and have found no indication of contamination.
“Our main concern is the customer and the impact on them.”
A spokesman for Alresford Salads, who produce watercress in the same area as Vitacress but do not supply Sainsbury's, confirmed their products are not implicated in the outbreak.
E.coli, or Escherichia coli, is a bacterium found in the gut of farm animals and most forms are harmless, but some can cause severe illness, even proving fatal in rare cases.
Alresford is considered by many to be the capital of watercress in the UK, staging a festival every May which attracts around 14,000 visitors.
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