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The research being commissioned by Safefood aims to assess how widespread the practice of bringing food into healthcare settings is, how it is handled, what storage facilities are available, and the knowledge and awareness among patients and their visitors of possible links to food poisoning.
A Safefood spokesperson told the Medical Independent (MI) the research was being carried out because “we know from multiple studies that immunocompromised people and older adults are amongst those most vulnerable to food poisoning”.
“There have been outbreaks of listeriosis, including in Northern Ireland, amongst hospital patients linked to food brought in from outside and also from food purchased in the hospital shop.”
According to a tender document seeking a provider to carry out the research, “high-risk foods, particularly those able to support the growth of Listeria monocytogenes, may present a risk to vulnerable groups in healthcare settings”. For example, an outbreak of listeriosis in Northern Ireland in 2012 was associated with “pre-prepared sandwiches from commercial suppliers”.
“For the majority of the population, an infectious foodborne illness is self-limiting, of short duration and generally does not require medical treatment.
“However, some people are more at risk of a more severe illness, often requiring hospitalisation. These vulnerable groups include very young children, pregnant women, older people and those who are immunocompromised. Those more vulnerable to foodborne illness, including listeriosis, may suffer a more prolonged illness with a greater risk of severe outcomes and complications.”
The research, which will run for up to 18 months, will not include food prepared and served to patients in healthcare settings.
It will involve communicating with healthcare providers, as well as vulnerable patients, residents and their families.
A number of hospitals and nursing homes in Ireland and Northern Ireland will be included.
The research could potentially be used to provide advice to patients and their families/visitors and to run initiatives to raise awareness on the issue.