Costa and Subway hospital cafes ‘infested with deadly bugs like salmonella’, BBC Watchdog finds


HIGH levels of dangerous bacteria have been found in hospital cafes run by Costa Coffee and Subway, a shocking investigation has revealed.

Researchers from BBC One’s Watchdog Live found salmonella and staphylococcus in ten branches of cafes run by Costa, Subway and the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS).

"Unacceptably high" levels of harmful bacteria have been found in hospital cafes run by Costa and Subway
“Unacceptably high” levels of harmful bacteria have been found in hospital cafes run by Costa and Subway

The cafes were chosen at random.

The Watchdog Live team, trained by a clinical microbiologist in how to correctly collect swabs,  swabbed tables, trays and ice at every branch they visited before sending their findings to a microbiology lab to be analysed.

The lab found bacteria counts that were classed as “unacceptably high” in six out of ten Costa branches, two out of ten branches of Subway and one of out of the ten branches of the RVS.

Salmonella in ice and on tables

Salmonella – the bacteria that can cause serious food poisoning – was found in one sample of ice from Costa Coffee and two samples were taken from tables.

Despite all the Subway hospital sites carrying a Food Standards Agency EHO 5* rating, salmonella was found on two tray samples and four table samples.

One sample of ice was also found to contain staphylococcus, as did one sample from a tray.

Staphylococcus was found in one sample of ice from Costa Coffee as well as four tray samples and one table sample.

The bug is responsible for staph infections, which typically affect the skin. In serious cases it can cause blood poisoning or sepsis, and toxic shock syndrome.

Poor hygiene practices

Environmental Health specialist Sian Buckley said that in an ideal world, all the samples would have come back with no high levels of bacteria at all.

“Hygiene practices should be good across all food businesses, but in this environment, there is a greater responsibility to ensure that practices are managed very effectively.

“Customers in this environment are a highly vulnerable group of people.

“The presence of salmonella and staphylococcus in any samples is unacceptable, and is an indicator of poor hygiene practices.”

Watchdog Live presenter Nikki Fox said: “This is perhaps our most important Swab Mob investigation because we are looking at cafes in hospitals, places you’d expect to be clean.

“I don’t think most people would expect salmonella or staphylococcus to be present – and certainly not in things we’re actually consuming.”

‘Very disappointing’

A Costa Coffee spokesperson said that the company was “very disappointed” with the findings, “especially as nine of the ten stores investigated all have the top Food Hygiene Rating of 5 (Very Good), with the tenth still awaiting inspection by the Local Authority”.

“We believe Costa Coffee stores provide a valuable service within hospitals, offering a familiar and comfortable environment for customers and it is extremely important to us that, as with our High Street stores, they operate to high standards of hygiene and robust cleaning processes, in line with the Food Standard Agency’s advice.

“We are confident we have the right policies, procedures and equipment in place but following these results have taken immediate action to review how they are implemented and to conduct independent checks at all our hospital stores.”

Putting ‘vulnerable people’ at risk

Subway said that while their stores are owned by independent franchise owners, they’re still subject to strict food policies and procedures.

“As a result of this being brought to our attention, we have contacted each of the franchise owners for the Hospital stores in question who have confirmed that they are following their policies and procedures,” said a spokesperson.

“In addition, we can confirm that each of these stores has had an additional deep clean over and above their regular cleaning schedule to ensure stringent cleanliness and food safety priorities are met.”

Neither Salmonella nor staphylococcus were found in any samples collected from the RVS.

The Royal Voluntary Service said: “We are reassured by the results of this test which show our dedicated volunteers and staff succeeding in doing their utmost to keep our cafés clean, while offering the special care and support to patients and hospital staff that Royal Voluntary Service is known for.

“Overall, we have 6,000 volunteers working in the NHS supported by our staff team, many of whom work in our cafés and shops.

“Our hospital café model, operated in over 200 sites, is very different to others as in addition to serving refreshments and manning the tills, trained volunteers are often among our customers, offering a supportive word or a listening ear.

“Any money we make either goes back into the NHS or funds the charity’s work.”

You can watch Watchdog Live tonight at 8pm on BBC One.

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