Sandwiches were kept warm in “ineffective” fridges at a hospital where a patient contracted listeria after eating one and died.

Cancer patient Ian Hitchcock, 52, died on 8 June after eating a pre-packed sandwich while he was being treated at Royal Derby Hospital.

The problems with the fridges were identified on 4 and 5 June when an environmental health officer visited.

The hospital said it has since reviewed how its food is stored on wards.

In a letter to the hospital, food safety inspector Jayne Hassall warned “high risk foods” including sandwiches were being “stored outside temperature control due to ineffective refrigerators”.

Some of the sandwiches were found to be at temperatures above 8C, which is an offence under the Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations 2013.

“This increases the risk of harmful bacteria growing within the food, especially Listeria Monocytogenes which can grow rapidly in warm temperatures and is an increased risk to vulnerable consumers,” Ms Hassall wrote.

Her accompanying report highlighted a particular danger to cancer patients, due to their weakened immune system.

Why was the hospital inspected?

The inspection was carried out by Derby City Council at the request of the Food Standards Agency.

It was requested because of an ongoing investigation into a listeria outbreak which had at that point resulted in the deaths of three people at other hospital sites.

The death toll has since risen to six and the government has ordered a review of hospital food.

The Good Food Chain, which made the sandwich eaten by Mr Hitchcock, has been linked to the listeria outbreak.

It voluntarily ceased manufacturing on 5 June and went into liquidation at the end of the month.

What did the inspection report say?

The report said high risk foods such as sandwiches and prepared salads should be stored at 8C or below. However, the inspector found three fridges where the air temperature was higher than 8C. One of these was on a ward and two were in kitchens.

When the sandwiches were tested they were found to be as high as 13.1C (cheese sandwich), 11.4 C (tuna and mayonnaise) and 9.4 C (gammon ham).

The inspector wrote: “I am concerned as food poisoning bacteria, especially Listeria Monocytogenes, can rapidly grow at warm temperatures, such as the temperatures we found these sandwiches to be stored at.

“Vulnerable groups such as individuals with a weakened immune system such as cancer patients, patients undergoing immunosuppressive treatments, pregnant women and the elderly are more susceptible to developing infections as a result of Listeria bacteria.”

She told the hospital it must either replace or repair its fridges if they were not able to operate at 8C or below. She recommended the temperature be set to 5C, saying this was “good practice” for health care organisations.

For further information

This case illustrates the importance of strict temperature control for high risk foods. For further information about automated monitoring please contact a member of the AmbaSense team

Telephone: 01609 600884
Email: enquiry@ambasense.com