Safety and quality of hospital food under review following listeria outbreak

The government has launched a “root and branch” review of the food served and sold in hospitals. The announcement, made by health secretary Matt Hancock, follows the deaths of five people linked to a listeria outbreak.

The NHS has identified nine confirmed cases of listeria in seven different hospitals between April 14th and May 28th, all linked to contaminated sandwiches. The manufacturer, the Good Food Chain, and its supplier, North Country Cooked Meats, have withdrawn the sandwiches, and voluntarily ceased supply of all products on June 7th. They are both complying with the Food Standards Agency on a full product withdrawal. 

Speaking in Parliament, Hancock promised a “full and thorough investigation” with “severe consequences” if there is any evidence of wrongdoing.

“People rightly expect to be safe and looked after in hospitals, and we must ensure that we take the necessary steps to restore that trust that the public deserve to be able to hold,” he said.

As such, there will now be a thorough review of hospital food. This will target three areas in particular: the elimination of junk food from hospitals; the introduction of new national standards for all healthcare food; and improving the availability of healthier choices across the NHS.

Hancock is “completely open” to upgrading hospital catering equipment. “… evidence from some of the best hospitals in the country is that it is also very good value for money.”

Hancock explained: “I have been struck by the number of hospital chief executives who have said that from the point of view of patient satisfaction, staff morale, and nutrition and the quality of food, bringing such food supplies in-house is the best thing they have done.”

Regarding the listeria outbreak he confirmed that the food in question came from North Country Cooked Meats: “We are trying to identify the suppliers to North Country Cooked Meats to get to the real root of this outbreak.”

Meanwhile, Public Health England has published details of the Trusts and hospitals that have reported cases of listeria linked to the pre-packed sandwiches and salads eaten by patients. The Good Food Chain supplied affected product lines to the 43 NHS Trusts, plus one independent provider. 

PHE said that to date there have been no patients linked to this incident outside healthcare organisations, but it continues to investigate.

The health risk to the public remains “low”.

The Hospital Caterers Association welcomed the review and called on all hospital food suppliers to urgently review their current testing and safety procedures.

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