Public not told of outbreak of listeria as case was ‘contained’

By Victoria Ward and Steve Bird

LISTERIA 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.

Three patients have died and 43 NHS trusts were placed on alert in one of the worst cases of food poisoning in the health service. Six people were also diagnosed with a serious listeria infection between April 25 and May 15.

Two people died at Manchester Royal Infirmary and one at Aintree Hospital in Liverpool. They had eaten pre-packed chicken sandwiches supplied by The Good Food Chain.

A letter was sent to NHS trusts advising them… 
The public was not alerted until a fortnight later

Another case emerged this weekend in Ashford, Kent, where Tanya Marston, 38, needed treatment after eating an infected sandwich during a stay at the William Harvey Hospital, raising fears of a national crisis.

Staff raised an alert on May 24 and selected products were withdrawn. On May 26, 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”, Public Health England (PHE) said.

The public was not 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, despite the likelihood that many others consumed the affected product.

The FSA acknowledged that listeriosis had a 70-day incubation period but a spokesman said: “We are satisfied that the outbreak has been contained.”

A source at The Good Food Chain insisted that while its thoughts were with the families of those who had died or been taken ill, it is adamant it followed food standard regulations to the letter.

The contaminated sandwich meat was from Salford-based North Country Cooked Meats, which subsequently produced a positive listeria test result.

Both North Country Cooked Meats and its parent company North Country Quality Foods have voluntarily ceased production since the outbreak was discovered.

Grahame White