One dead after listeria contamination at Meals on Wheels catering facility

A Melbourne catering facility was shut down by health authorities on Friday after positive samples of the listeria bacteria were found on multiple food product samples. Source: Getty

An elderly woman has died from listeria contamination after consuming food from a Melbourne catering facility that supplies Meals on Wheels, private hospitals and aged care facilities around the city.

I Cook Foods was shut down by Victorian health authorities on Friday after positive samples of the listeria bacteria were found on multiple food samples following an investigation into the cause of the woman’s death, Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services confirmed to Starts at 60.

The woman, who died in a private hospital on February 4, was diagnosed with listeriosis. No one else is believed to have been affected.

The catering company provides meals to dozens of private hospitals, aged care centres and Meals on Wheels services, mostly in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. Victoria Health said all of I Cook Foods’ clients have been notified and that no public hospitals were affected.

The facility, in Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs, has undergone a thorough clean and will not reopen until further testing and improvements are made. Health authorities are also assessing any changes required to food handling processes and the premises layout, the department added.

Listeriosis is an illness usually caused by eating food contaminated by the bacterium listeria monocytogenes. The bacteria are widely distributed in the environment and can grow in food at refrigeration temperatures. Although uncommon, it can be extremely dangerous, particularly to pregnant women and the elderly.

In many cases, listeria can be present in natural products without causing any harm. It can be difficult to diagnose as symptoms present at different times. Victims typically show flu-like symptoms including a fever, chills, muscle aches, nausea and diarrhoea.

Some of the most common foods linked to the infection include unpackaged ready-to-eat meats, a range of cheeses such as brie, camembert and ricotta, raw seafood and pre-packaged or pre-prepared cut fruit and vegetables. However, this doesn’t mean you have to miss out on your favourite foods as the bacteria can be easily killed off with correct cooking methods.

Just to be safe, it is recommended people wash their hands with soap and running water, avoid refrigerated foods that are past their use by date, cook frozen fruit and vegetables and cook high-risk foods such as poultry, minced meat, sausages, hamburgers and leftovers to 75 degrees celsius.

There have been two cases of listeriosis so far this year, compared to nine for the same period in 2018. Victoria had 27 cases of listeriosis for the 2018 calendar.

Have you ever developed a listeria infection from contaminated food?

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