EXPERTS in E coli say the Scottish Government must consider adding warning labels to unpasteurised cheese products following a fatal outbreak of the food bug which was linked to a gourmet blue cheese.

Scientists from the Roslin Institute and Edinburgh Veterinary School said the public were not widely aware of the dangers to children and elderly from consuming "raw milk" items. They added that hazard warning labels on packaging "could be a step in the right direction" to protect public health.

It comes after an outbreak of the potentially deadly E. coli strain, O157, between July and mid-September 2016. Seventeen people were hospitalised and a three-year-old girl died.

An multi-agency investigation chaired by Health Protection Scotland and including bodies such as Food Standards Scotland and South Lanarkshire Council, subsequently blamed the outbreak on a contaminated batch of unpasteurised Dunsyre Blue cheese, manufactured by Lanarkshire-based manufacturer Errington Cheese. The firm has always denied its products were the source of the bug, but it has now voluntarily introduced routine tests for E. coli O157 at an extra cost to production.

Writing in the Herald today, Dr Deborah Hoyle of Edinburgh University's School of Veterinary Studies and Professor David Gally of the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh - both specialists in E. coli - said "regulation and responsibility" were required amid a growth in demand for minimally-processed artisan products such as unpasteurised cheese.

They state: "Labelling raw milk products more clearly with a warning of potential hazard to specific groups, could be a step in the right direction. We advocate that the risks contingent with unpasteurised milk products should be more widely publicised."

Around 10 per cent of cattle in Scotland test positive for E. coli O157 at any one time. The scientists suggested that Scottish cheese manufacturers could "micro-filter" their milk - a very fine filtration process which removes more bacteria than pasteurization - as an extra safeguard.

The bacteria does not pose a significant threat to healthy people, but young children, the frail elderly, and people with cancer or suppressed immune systems, are more vulnerable.

In the United States, unpasteurised cheeses such as Brie and Roquefort are banned on health grounds. Dr Hoyle said that was too extreme for Europe, but said a public health campaign similar to the 'Pink Chicken' drive - which highlighted the risk of campylobacter from undercooked barbecue meat - would be useful.

She said: "I think a lot of people aren’t aware of illness that might be transmitted through cheese. Labelling is an important way of raising awareness, and at the moment there isn’t that sort of labelling on cheese.

“But even if we don’t go down the route of labelling - because obviously there are all the French cheeses that we import which might not be pasteurised – having that public conversation means that people can make their own decision about whether or not to buy product based on whether they’re going to feed it to a small child or someone in hospital.”

A spokesman for Food Standards Scotland said that due to ongoing legal proceedings between Errington Cheese and South Lanarkshire Council in connection to the 2016 E. coli outbreak they were unable to comment at the current time.

No one at Fine Cheesemakers of Scotland, which represents producers, was available to comment.