THREE people have been killed after catching listeria from dodgy sandwiches, health officials have warned.
An investigation has been launched after six hospital patients picked up the bug, Public Health England confirmed.
Three of those patients have since passed away.
The deaths occurred at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust and Aintree University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.
Officials said meat from supplier North Country Cooked Meats has tested positive for the strain of listeria responsible for the outbreak.
It is unclear if more Brits will come down with the infection – as it can take 70 days from exposure to show signs of the illness.
The supplier, The Good Food Chain, has since pulled sandwiches and salads.
The business had been supplied by North Country Cooked Meats, who have also voluntarily ceased production.
A PHE spokesperson said the items of food were no longer being produced.
The affected products were also pulled from hospitals when the links to the listeria infections were first identified.
Following the product withdrawal, Public Health England and Health Protection Scotland have written to their respective NHS Trusts and Boards to ensure that they are following appropriate food storage and handling protocols and to provide clinical guidance.
Dr Nick Phin, Deputy Director at the National Infection Service at PHE said: “Our thoughts are with the families of those patients who have died.
“We, along with the FSA, colleagues in local authorities and the NHS have worked quickly to determine the likely cause of this outbreak and taken action to reduce the risk to the public’s health.
“To date, there have been no associated cases identified outside healthcare organisations, and any risk to the public is low.”
The Good Food Chain supplies universities, businesses and sporting venues with sandwiches.
On their website, they state: “We’re proud to be revolutionising sandwiches for healthcare patients. Giving you more for less – making them fresh, tasty, nutritious, attractive and incredible value for money – is our mission.
“Our products are designed around today’s patients – to give them a coffee shop style sandwich in bed.”
They added: “Our customers enjoy quality products at the right price. They have peace of mind that all our products are lovingly hand prepared in a safe environment, as you would in your own kitchen.”
What is listeria?
Listeria monocytogenes is the species of pathogenic bacteria which can cause the infection listeriosis if ingested.
It can grow and reproduce inside the host’s cells and is one of the most virulent food based pathogens. 20 to 30 per cent of food borne listeriosis infections in high-risk individuals may be fatal.
The deadly disease is a particular threat to the elderly, pregnant women and babies.
The bacteria can cause a life-threatening infection, where symptoms can appear similar to flu, including a high temperature, muscle ache or pain, chills, feeling or being sick and diarrhoea.
Dr Colin Sullivan, Chief Operating Officer at the FSA said: “Our sympathies are with the families of those patients who have tragically passed away. We have taken action along with local authorities to minimise the risk based on the evidence so far.
“The FSA will continue to investigate how the outbreak occurred and if further steps are required to protect vulnerable groups.”
Around 166 annual cases of listeria are recorded in England and Wales.
Listeriosis is a rare infection and for most people it goes unnoticed or there are mild symptoms of gastroenteritis that usually last a short time without the need for treatment.
The time between exposure to the organism and the development of the illness can be up to 70 days. Occasionally, however, a more serious infection develops and spreads to the blood stream or brain.
This can happen in people who have serious underlying health conditions and can also occur in pregnant women. Pregnant women and people with underlying health conditions can find more information on the NHS website.