A comprehensive review of sandwich and chilled food delivery into hospitals and care homes is to be undertaken by The British Sandwich & Food to Go Association following the deaths of five people from listeriosis with the aim of ensuring that best practice systems are operating throughout the supply chain.
Although the sandwich manufacturer implicated in the current incident is not a member of our Association, this sad incident impacts our entire industry and the confidence of millions of consumers who rely on us daily.
The review will be undertaken by a Working Group drawn from across the industry with a view to ensuring that procedures throughout the chill chain are understood and maintained. The aim will be to assess procedures and compliance assurance from the procurement of ingredients through to the delivery of a product to a patient.
Recommendations from the Review will be presented to all the Government agencies involved, including the Food Standards Agency, Public Health England and the National Health Service with the aim of establishing a tighter regime for delivering ready-to-eat chilled foods to patients.
Listeria Monocytogenes, a species of pathogenic bacteria, is found widely all around us and can linger in a range of foods from salads and smoked salmon to soft cheeses. For most people the risks of infection are very low, but it can cause illness and death among the elderly and people with immune systems that are not working properly.
The chilled food industry has strict control systems for managing listeria, from the sourcing and handling of raw materials to the maintenance of the chill chain from factory to consumer, cool temperatures being a key factor in reducing potential growth of Listeria. When implemented effectively, long-established best practice standards and systems assure safety with respect to listeria.
To ensure that Listeria, and other bacteria found naturally in foods, do not get past their control systems, food manufacturers undertake a strict regime of swabbing and sampling. However, while food businesses can never guarantee that small amounts of bacteria do not get through these processes, any that do are likely be at considerably lower levels than in other uncontrolled settings, such as the home.
Although sandwiches are considered by many nutritionists as one of the best ways to feed patients because they offer a nutritionally balanced meal, for those with compromised immune systems, the British Sandwich & Food to Go Association has for many years recommended that extreme care should be taken when providing chilled ready-to-eat foods to vulnerable groups, such as those undergoing cancer treatment. This is particularly important in hospitals where ward temperatures tend to be high, which is a significant factor that will influences bacterial growth.
The Working Group will meet in July to start the review with the aim of making recommendations by the early Autumn.