Victoria’s acting Chief Health Officer Dr Brett Sutton said the potentially contaminated food was in circulation until Thursday night, meaning individuals may have been eating the food on Friday morning.
‘‘People who might’ve eaten it yesterday or in recent weeks might still develop illness,’’ said Mr Sutton.
‘‘Potentially thousands of people have been exposed,’’ said Mr Sutton.
‘‘I don’t want to see any more [deaths].’’
People in contact with the food have been urged to be alert to early flu-like signs of the bacteria, which can cause blood poisoning and meningitis.
I Can Cook provided meals to patients at private hospitals including St Vincent’s, Frankston and Knox, as well as Mercy aged care homes and many meals and wheels providers across the state.
All the affected facilities have been ordered to throw out remaining food from I Can Cook.
Mr Sutton said health authorities were taking no risks in ensuring a potential outbreak is contained.
‘‘We’re taking an abundance of precaution … this was a production facility for so many vulnerable people,’’ said Mr Sutton.
The woman in her 80s died in Knox Private Hospital on February 4. After testing foods the woman may have come into contact with, six positive samples of listeria were found in the Dandenong South outlet.
Mr Sutton said the health department was taking all necessary steps to ensure I Cook Foods passed all tests before re-opening. He said this may take weeks.
Mr Sutton was reluctant to lay blame at the feet of I Cook Foods, saying an investigation was underway to determine exactly which part of the food-handling process was at fault for spreading the bacteria.
Mr Sutton said potential compensation for the family of the diseases woman would be a ‘‘matter for [them]», saying the family were being supported by authorities in the wake of the tragic incident.
The Department of Health has issued an urgent warning to anyone who has come into contact with the kitchen’s food this month, and may have been exposed to the deadly bacteria.
Testing on multiple food products collected from I Cook Foods returned six positive samples for listeria, the department said.
Listeria’s gestation period is two weeks, meaning those who have eaten the supllier’s food in the past fortnight are particularly at risk. The gestation period for pregnant woman is up to 70 days.
The department has begun alerting catering companies delivering in the area that their food may be contaminated.
Yarra Ranges Council told The Age it had contacted about100 people who received meals on wheels supplied by I Cook Foods and told them to throw the meals out.
Though Mercy Place Rosebud was supplied with contaminated meals, none of the residents have fallen ill.
‘‘No-one’s sick and all we had to do was get rid of the food,’’ a spokesperson for the aged care provider said.
‘‘We would have known in a few hours if they’d had listeria so luckily it’s all under control here.
‘‘They’ll just have a new menu for a few days while we find an alternative.’’
I Cook Foods did not respond to requests for comment.
Listeria infection is rare, but it can be extremely dangerous – particularly to pregnant women and the elderly.
Symptoms include fever, tiredness, aches and pains and headaches, but the infection can become life-threatening if not treated appropriately.
Last year six people died and one woman miscarried after a listeria outbreak linked with rockmelon grown in NSW.
I Cook Foods provides meals to the following organisations
MEALS ON WHEELS
- City of Ballarat
- City of Booroondara
- City of Whitehorse
- Glen Eira Council
- Kingston Council
- Knox City Council
- Monash Council
- Yarra Ranges Council
- Frankston Private
- Holmesglen Private
- Knox Private
- Melbourne Private
- Northbank Private
- St Vincent’s East Melbourne
- St Vincent’s Fitzroy
- St Vincent’s Kew
AGED CARE HOMES
- Fairway Hostel Aged Care, Sandringham
- Healthscope Independent Living Moorabbin
- Mercy Health Ballarat
- Mercy Health Rosebud
- Yallambee Aged Care, Traralgon
Paul is a reporter for The Age.
Liam is The Age and Sydney Morning Herald’s science reporter