Three patients have died after six seriously ill people were affected by a listeria outbreak in hospitals in Manchester and Liverpool.
The outbreak is believed to have started in meat used in pre-packaged sandwiches and salads linked to supplier The Good Food Chain. While the outbreak was confirmed on 7 June, the first instances were identified in May - prompting the immediate withdrawal of the brand's products and the voluntary ceasing of all its operations.
Public Health England (PHE), the Food Standards Agency (FSA), Public Health Wales (PHW), Food Standards Scotland (FSS), Health Protection Scotland (HPS) and a number of local authorities are currently investigating the cause of the outbreak, including North Country Cooked Meats, which has tested positive for the outbreak strain of listeria and supplied The Good Food Chain.
Craig Smith, chairman of the Hospital Caterers Association, said it is "a patient's choice to have a sandwich for their meal, and it is all of our responsibility to ensure it is a safe choice."
He added: "We are reaching out to our membership, caterers and suppliers alike, to provide the support they may need, and we are working with all relevant authorities and agencies such as PHE and the Food Standards Agency.
"We urgently request hospital caterers to identify all products in their menus which contain ingredients from North Country Cooked Meats and North Country Quality Foods so they can be isolated, removed and further investigations can be undertaken.
"We would like to reinforce the critical importance of temperature control and call for all caterers to review their audit processes with immediate effect.
"We demand the highest standards from our supplier members and expect them, without exception, to temporarily suspend delivery of products until they have been fully re-evaluated and identified as ‘not at risk' from the positive test for listeria at North Country Cooked Meats. We expect suppliers to keep our caterers informed and support our caterer members in isolating and removing from the supply chain any potential at-risk product."
Dr Nick Phin, deputy director at the National Infection Service at PHE, added: "Our thoughts are with the families of those patients who have died. We, along with the FSA, colleagues in local authorities and the NHS, have worked quickly to determine the likely cause of this outbreak and taken action to reduce the risk to the public's health.
"To date, there have been no associated cases identified outside healthcare organisations, and any risk to the public is low."
Two of the deceased were receiving treatment at Manchester Royal Infirmary, while a third was being treated in Aintree Hospital, Liverpool.
A spokesperson for the Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust said the trust "sincerely regret" two of its seriously ill patients contracting listeria.
They added: "Although the risk of infection was extremely small, as soon as the Trust was informed of the findings of PHE's investigation, a decision was made to remove the sandwiches that may have been affected from the patient menu as a precautionary measure, and an alternative supplier was established."
A spokesman for Aintree University Hospital added: "Public health experts advised us of this supply chain issue on Friday, 24 May, and we immediately removed all products from this supplier. We will continue to work with the investigating authorities."