An investigation is currently taking place into a number of NSW nursing homes, after an elderly man died as a result of suspected salmonella food poisoning
, and nine other residents have been hospitalised.
This post was updated on 16th February after further information was provided by the Illawarra Retirement Trust (IRT).
This news follows reports last year discovered that Salmonella cases in Australia have almost doubled in the last decade.
Food Handling Procedures
The investigation into the aged-care salmonella outbreaks has identified as many as 23 cases across 10 facilities in South East Sydney, the Illawarra and ACT. According to the Illawarra Retirement Trust (IRT), twenty of those cases took place within its care centres.
The IRT is also known for providing a service of food-distribution to other retirement homes in the area. As a result of the outbreak, the group has been forced to defend its food safety standards and food handling procedures – arguing that there are strict food safety procedures to control of bacteria in place.
The chief executive of IRT, Nieves Murray, has confirmed to the Australian Institute of Food Safety that, "We are continuing to work with the NSW Food Authority, NSW Health and ACT to determine the as yet unknown source or sources of the infection. All sources of food are being thoroughly investigated, including those produced by IRT Catering, those distributed by IRT Catering but produced elsewhere, and third party products delivered direct to care centres."
"What I can tell you," he said, "is that the NSW Food Authority has conducted rigorous scientific testing at the affected care centres and at IRT Catering over the past two weeks. The Authority confirmed to us in writing on Friday afternoon that there was no evidence of salmonella at any of our kitchens and that adequate controls are in place to ensure the safety of our residents. While the source of the infection is still unknown, the precautionary measures we have taken to reduce risk to our residents remain in place."
Third Party Blame
Salmonellosis is recognised as one of the most common conditions regarding food in Australia. The bacteria typically spreads to people when they consume foods from infected animals that have been undercooked, such as meat, poultry, eggs, and the by-products of such items. However, it also commonly stems from salad and uncooked vegetable items that were fertilised using infected manure.
The type of Salmonella in question is fairly rare - known as “bovismorbificans” - and initial reports indicate that it could be linked to third-party salad products. Furthermore, as per the comments above, the testing that has been carried out on food stocks within the IRT central kitchen has revealed clean results.
Steps for Safety
Regardless of where the origin of the outbreak may have started, steps are now being taken to minimise the risk of other vulnerable individuals becoming ill. IRT Operating Chief, Craig Hamer commented that, "As a precautionary measure, we have withdrawn all at-risk foods from service at all our care centres. This includes salad products - both fresh and pre-packaged - and cold meats."
As a result, the trust believes that they are doing everything possible to protect aged-care residents and reduce the spread of salmonella.
The elderly man in the Illawarra facility that passed away was also suffering from a number of other underlying health conditions.