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Aberdeen professor urges food safety caution

A LEADING microbiologist has warned that a major health crisis could still occur 50 years after Aberdeen was gripped by a typhoid outbreak.

Aberdeen University professor Hugh Pennington said a major occurrence on the scale of the crisis that saw 500 people confined to hospital "could still take us completely by surprise".

His comments came in an article to mark the anniversary of the event. Writing in today's Herald, the expert says that despite rises in global food safety standards, the lesson from a substantial e-coli outbreak in Germany in 2011 is that a major occurrence "could still take us completely by surprise".

Professor Pennington adds: "With microbes evolving as they do, we can be certain it will happen again."

Traders suffered, and Aberdeen's tourist industry faced, in the words of the city's publicity director, the "distinct probability of a complete collapse" that year.

The source turned out to be a large tin of corned beef from Argentina, but the use of antiobiotics ensured there were no deaths.

The contents of the can were sold at a William Low's supermarket in Union Street. "All the infections were caused by eating contaminated corned beef or cold meats cut with the same slicer," observes Professor Pennington.

The first casualty ­developed symptoms on May 12; by midnight, a dozen people were in hospital. By the weekend of May 23 to 24, there were 48 confirmed typhoid cases.

Former nurses were urged to help out at City Hospital, where the first victims were being treated.

By May 27, there were 92 cases. Hoteliers began to notice holiday cancellations from people who had intended visiting Aberdeen. Shops and restaurants reported quiet business.

A second wave of typhoid struck the city a few days later, and all schools were closed. The city's chief medical officer, Dr Ian MacQueen, described Aberdeen as "a sort of beleaguered city", and urged visitors to stay away for at least a fortnight.

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