Monday, February 25, 2008

More Worries For Hungry Hospital Patients

Yesterday, I reported on the results of an audit of hospital kitchens in New South Wales, Australia. Now, it's the turn of hospitalized New Zealanders to think twice before eating their dinners.

Leonards Superior Smallgoods, a producer of cooked, ready-to-eat meats, today asked supermarkets to put a hold on its products after a batch of packaged cooked corned beef was found to contain Listeria monocytogenes. The contaminated product had been shipped to North Shore Hospital and to cafés on New Zealand's North Island.

Last week, Leonards was forced to recall a batch of packaged roast beef after it was found to be contaminated with L. monocytogenes. That product had been supplied to Waikato Hospital. Leonards has quarantined all of its existing stock pending determination of the extent of the contamination problem.

The possibility that hospital patients may have been served meat that was contaminated with L. monocytogenes is especially worrisome, as this pathogen typically targets the elderly, immunocompromised individuals, and pregnant women.

A Leonards spokesman told The New Zealand Herald that the company spends $3,000-$4,000 per month on product testing. Nevertheless, the contamination was detected as a result of tests carried out by the distributor, and not by Leonards.

This incident is a reminder that product safety cannot be achieved simply by testing the finished product. Listeria monocytogenes is a common environmental contaminant. The microbe is cold tolerant, and lurks in drain lines and other moist areas. Perhaps the time has come for Leonards to review its entire food safety and sanitation programs?

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