The Food Safety Authority of Ireland has urged childcare workers and crèche owners to ensure they have robust hygiene practices in place to reduce the incidence of E coli.

The authority has said it is concerned at the high levels of E coli infection here, with 285 cases of human infection provisionally recorded last year.

There were nine outbreaks in children attending crèches, or who were cared for in the home by childminders.

This involved some 75 children and adults becoming ill, with seven being hospitalised last year.

Most E coli bacteria are harmless, but some types are extremely harmful and can cause severe stomach pains and bloody diarrhoea, and can also progress to cause kidney failure and death in some cases.

The FSAI says young children and infants are particularly at risk from E coli infection, and children and workers in childcare settings can unwittingly spread infection.

Food Safety Authority chief executive Professor Alan Reilly said babies and young children are vulnerable because their immune systems are still developing.

Washing hands is the single most important way to stop the spread of these E coli. Young children should be helped to wash and dry their hands. Babies need to have their hands washed as often as older children.

As well as handwashing, infection can be prevented by using a safe water supply and preparing food hygienically.

Staff are asked to stay away from childcare facilities for 48 hours if they have had diarrhoea or vomiting, and they should contact the Department of Public Health for advice to prevent more cases.

The FSAI has published a leaflet - How to Protect the Children in Your Care - which is freely available on, or by contacting the Food Safety Authority on 1890-336677.