Hospital Food Contamination Risk Reduced With Safety Measures: Study

Large amounts of raw food entering hospital kitchens may be contaminated with an antibiotic resistant bacterial form of E. Coli, according to the findings of a new Swiss study. 

Nearly all of the raw chicken sampled at a Swiss hospital was found to be contaminated with extended-spectrum beta-lactamase producing E. coli (ESBL-PE), a severe form of E. coli resistant to common antibiotics, highlighting the importance of hospitals following food safety measures to reduce the risk for patients.

The study was published in the April issue of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, a journal of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America. Researchers from the University Hospital of Geneva in Switzerland teamed up with the Food Control Authority of Geneva to conduct a cross-sectional study of the 2,200 bed hospital, and found that nearly 92% of all raw chicken tested from the hospital and from another supermarket group contained the bacteria.

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The two teams tested food and food handlers who prepare more than 8,000 meals each day for hospital patients and workers. The team sampled raw and prepared food from the hospital kitchen. They then compared the samples to a group taken from a local supermarket. They found that 86% of the raw chicken tested positive for ESBL-PE. All the supermarket samples of chicken tested positive for ESBL-PE. Combined, more than 90% of samples were contaminated.

Fecal samples from kitchen staff were also collected. Approximately six percent of the kitchen staff tested positive as ESBL-PE carriers.

Proper Food Prep Prevents Infections

Hospital poultry is a high-risk entry point for serious and potential life threatening bacteria in a hospital, putting thousands of patients and staff at risk, researcher determined.

In spite of the likelihood of the infected staff passing on the bacteria if proper food handling practices are not followed, researchers found no cooked chicken samples that tested positive for the antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Researchers conclude the food preparation steps are sufficient safety precautions to prevent the spread of the harmful bacteria if followed correctly.

Most hospital food preparation strategies are quite rigorous, offering patients protection from the spread of bacteria through food. However, study authors warn that may not be the case for household kitchens, which do not adhere to rigorous food safety preparation precautions.

Many household kitchens follow much less rigid measures of food handling safety in the kitchen, leaving members of the household vulnerable to similar bacterial infections.

Many forms of E. coli bacteria are harmless and part of the human gut flora. Some types can cause infections resulting in diarrhea, urinary tract infections, respiratory illness, pneumonia and other more serious invasive infections.

Symptoms of E. coli poisoning typically involve stomach cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea but only last a few weeks for healthy adults. However, young children and the elderly could be at risk for more severe illness, where the toxin may enter the blood stream. Between 5% and 10% of E. coli infections can lead to kidney failure, known as Hemolytic-Uremic Syndrome (HUS). Symptoms of HUS include fatigue, decreased frequency of urination and loss of pink color in the cheeks and inside of their lower eyelids.

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