People are being urged to wash fresh produce such as fruit and vegetables thoroughly, after experts linked bacteria found in soil and an 8 month E-Coli outbreak.

The outbreak started in December 2010 and continued until July this year. In total 251 people all over the country suffered vomiting and diarrhoea after contracting the bacteria. 74 victims required hospital treatment, including four who developed Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome, a rare digestive disorder which can cause kidney failure in children. The majority of cases were female and around 100 sufferers were under the age of 16. One victim who had underlying health problems died.

There were 193 people affected in England, 44 in Scotland and 14 in Wales. All cases involved a rare strain of E-Coli 0157 called Phage Type 8 (PT8). The E-Coli strain caused patients mild to moderate symptoms of diarrhoea, stomach cramps and a fever. Children, the elderly and people with weak immune systems were most at risk from the outbreak.

Bacteria found on vegetables

Following a six month investigation the source of the outbreak was found to have been caused by traces of soil carrying the E-Coli 0157 bacteria present on the vegetables.

Chief Scientist at the Food Standards Agency, Dr Andrew Wadge said: "It's sadly a myth that a little bit of dirt doesn't do you any harm; soil can sometimes carry harmful bacteria and, although food producers have good systems in place to clean vegetables, the risk can never be entirely eliminated. Control of infection from E. coli 0157 relies on an awareness of all potential sources of the bacteria and high standards of hygiene where it may be present.

"This outbreak is a timely reminder that it is essential to wash all fruits and vegetables, including salad, before you eat them, unless they are labelled 'ready to eat', to ensure that they are clean. It is also important to wash hands thoroughly as well as clean chopping boards, knives and other utensils after preparing vegetables to prevent cross contamination."