Three hospital patients in the UK have died in an outbreak of listeria linked to pre-packed sandwiches, reports BBC News. Public Health England (PHE) said the victims were among six patients affected in England and the deaths occurred in Manchester and Liverpool. Two of the victims were at Manchester Royal Infirmary, with the other a patient at Aintree Hospital.
Sandwiches and salads from The Good Food Chain linked to the outbreak have been withdrawn and production stopped, the report says.
PHE said the products were withdrawn from hospitals when the links to the infections were first identified. A spokesperson for the Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust said it offered its “deepest condolences to the bereaved families” and “sincerely regret” that two of their seriously ill patients contracted listeria. The trust, which would not say when the deaths happened, said the sandwiches were from the patient menu.
The report says the first patient showed symptoms on 25 April while the most recent case was reported on 15 May. Aintree Hospital said: “Public health experts advised us of this supply chain issue on Friday 24 May and we immediately removed all products from this supplier.”
Dr Nick Phin, deputy director at the National Infection Service at PHE said in the report: “To date, there have been no associated cases identified outside healthcare organisations, and any risk to the public is low.”
PHE said The Good Food Chain – which supplied 43 NHS trusts across the UK – had been supplied with meat produced by North Country Cooked Meats which subsequently produced a positive test result for the outbreak strain of listeria. This business and North Country Quality Foods, which it distributes through, have also voluntarily ceased production.
A spokesperson for The Good Food Chain Ltd said the company’s production facility in Stone, Staffordshire, was “cross contaminated by an ingredient from one of its approved meat suppliers”. A spokesperson for North Country Cooked Meats said in the report it was “currently co-operating fully with the environmental health and the Food Standards Agency in their investigations”.
Warnings were not issued to the public because the recent outbreak was “contained”, the Food Standards Agency has insisted, despite the emergence of another case, reports The Daily Telegraph. On 26th May, a letter was sent to all relevant NHS trusts advising them not to serve any of the company’s sandwiches to “patients in vulnerable groups”, according to PHE.
But, the report says, at no point was the public alerted until last Friday, a fortnight later, when PHE announced that three people had died. Patients were not told of the scare or warned to look out for symptoms of the potentially deadly infection listeriosis, despite the likelihood that many others consumed the affected product before it was withdrawn.
The FSA acknowledged that listeriosis had a “lengthy” 70-day incubation period but a spokesperson is quoted in the report as saying: “We are satisfied that the outbreak has been contained.”
Various tests were undertaken and confirmed the listeria match in the patients and products, last Wednesday, two days before an announcement was made.
Dr Meera Chand, PHE consultant microbiologist, said in the report: “This has been a complex multi-agency investigation and throughout PHE has acted swiftly to protect those considered to be at the greatest risk.”
A 2016 report by food safety experts STS blamed pre-packaged sandwiches as the cause of “almost all” of nine previous hospital listeria outbreaks in 13 years, it has emerged. It said “low-level contamination” at factories and “a breakdown in control of the cold chain in hospitals” were responsible. Although the FSA insisted that such products could safely be served to vulnerable groups.