News & Updates

Food Standards Scotland adds to evidence base on STEC in wild venison

Food Standards Scotland has published a report to address knowledge gaps and better understand the risk of STEC (Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli) contamination of wild venison.

The report is based on three core objectives to:

  • map the venison industry in Scotland
  • assess STEC prevalence in wild deer faeces in Scotland
  • review cross-contamination risks in the slaughter and processing stages of wild deer from the field to larder   

Although the prevalence of STEC O157 in wild deer is low, the report found that when discovered, it is the strain associated with the most severe forms of human disease. Therefore, adherence to strict hygiene practices from cull to final product are strongly recommended within the report.

The venison industry continues to take a cooperative and responsible approach to STEC O157 when found, working to better understand the risks in the sector and how to mitigate them in the interest of public health protection.

Dr Marianne James, Head of Risk Assessment at Food Standards Scotland, said:

“Our STEC in venison report has been a highly successful collaboration between government, industry and academia, in order to gain a clearer understanding of the risks in the venison sector. We would like to take this opportunity to thank the industry for their funding contribution which has been instrumental in conducting all of the sampling and helping steer the project work.

“The report’s findings will be taken forward and are being used by FSS and the venison industry to review best practice guides.”

Dr Tom McNeilly, Head of Disease Control at the Moredun Research Institute and project lead, added:

“This project has been a fantastic collaboration between research scientists, government and the deer industry. It has provided important information on STEC strains circulating in Scottish wild deer and the risk they pose to human health. Furthermore, this collaboration provides a blue-print for how academics, government agencies and industry can work together effectively to address key public health issues. I would like to express my thanks to all those involved.”

Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a group of bacteria commonly found in the gut of humans and other warm-blooded animals. Most strains of E. coli are harmless, however some, like STEC, can cause illness in humans.

Humans can become ill from STEC by eating contaminated foods, drinking contaminated water, by direct contact with animals and their environment, or by spreading the infection from person to person.

The risk analysis also identified a number of factors associated with increased chance of contamination, such as higher environmental temperatures and longer distances from cull sites to Approved Game Handling Establishments (AGHE).

The report was commissioned following an outbreak of STEC O157 in venison products in 2015. Funding for the report was jointly provided by Food Standards Scotland and the Scottish Government’s RESAS Contract Research Fund, along with industry in-kind contributions.

The work for this report was awarded to The Moredun Research Institute, with project partners including the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies (R(D)SVS), University of Edinburgh; The Roslin Institute (RI), University of Edinburgh; The Scottish E. coli O157/STEC Reference Laboratory (SERL); Association of Deer Management Groups (ADMG); Scottish Venison Association (SVA); Lowland Deer Network Scotland (LDNS); Scottish Quality Wild Venison (SQWV); and British Deer Society (BDS).

Read the full report – ‘Risk of STEC contamination in wild venison’.

Download our fact sheet on STEC.