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Listeria outbreak leads to warning over hospital sandwiches


Edwin Poots

Edwin Poots

Edwin Poots

Health trusts across Northern Ireland have been advised to stop serving sandwiches from a specific food supplier following an outbreak of listeria which claimed the life of a patient.

Four patients in the Northern Health & Social Care Trust were affected by the outbreak — an elderly woman being treated at Antrim Area Hospital died on the morning of April 8 and the last case was confirmed on April 20.

A spokeswoman from the trust said one of the patients remains in hospital while the other two have since been discharged.

Following the outbreak, the trust carried out a review of food supplier and distribution chains with the Food Standards Agency and Environmental Health.

Health Minister Edwin Poots said preliminary results of tests on sandwiches provided to inpatients indicated low levels of listeria were present although he stressed these were within the legal limits.

In response to an Assembly question on the matter, he said: “As a precautionary measure the Northern Trust decided not to serve sandwiches from a particular supplier until investigations have been completed.

“Following discussions with the Northern Trust, the Public Health Agency (PHA) wrote to the other trusts recommending a number of precautionary actions.”

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He said these included not serving sandwiches from a particular supplier, ensuring clinical staff are aware of the possibility of listeria infection and diagnosis and promptly reporting new cases to the PHA duty room.

A spokeswoman from the PHA said an investigation to ascertain the cause of the outbreak is ongoing and it would therefore be inappropriate to name any commercial supplier that is under investigation.

She said the advice regarding the commercial supplier will remain in place until the investigation is completed.

Listeriosis is caused by a common bug sometimes found in foodstuffs such as pate, soft cheeses, smoked fish, sandwiches and cooked meats.

When the outbreak was declared last month, Olive MacLeod, director of nursing at the trust, said: “One of our patients who was frail and elderly died at the weekend.

“She was dying, but unfortunately she got this infection and it contributed to her death.”

Ms MacLeod said the trust had completed a review of its processes regarding the storage and handling of foods and it was content they are robust and safe.

She said it is likely the infection came from an external source, although she said she does not believe food brought into the hospitals by visitors is responsible for the outbreak.

In 2008, three patients died during a listeria outbreak at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.


Listeria is an uncommon |infection in the hospital |setting — unlike MRSA or C difficile, it is not a hospital superbug. It is usually food borne — most often in ready-to-eat refrigerated and processed foods. Pregnant women and patients with pre-existing medical conditions, such as those in intensive care or immuno suppressed patients, would be at most risk.

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