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‘Unacceptably high’ levels of bacteria found in Costa and Subway hospital cafes

BBC One programme discovered Salmonella and Staphylococcus on trays, tables and ice

BBC One programme discovered Salmonella and Staphylococcus on trays, tables and ice


Costa Coffee run many branches in hospitals. Picture: Alamy

‘Unacceptably high’ levels of bacteria – including Salmonella – have been found in hospital cafes run by Costa Coffee and Subway.

An investigation by BBC One’s Watchdog Live programme found Salmonella and Staphylococcus bacteria, both common causes of food poisoning, in a number of hospital branches of the coffee and food chains.

Swabbing and analysis

The Watchdog team, trained by a clinical microbiologist in how to correctly collect swabs, visited ten randomly chosen hospital outlets of Costa Coffee, Subway and the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS), where they swabbed tables, trays and ice.  

The swabs were then sent to a laboratory to be analysed for the total bacteria count and the presence of Salmonella and Staphylococcus.

While Salmonella and Staphylococcus bacteria were found in a number of Subway and Costa Coffee branches, none were found in RVS-run cafes.

‘Unacceptably high’ bacteria counts were found in six out of ten branches of Costa, two out of ten branches of Subway, and one out of ten branches of the RVS.

Stark results

The laboratory tests revealed:

  • Costa Coffee: Salmonella present in one sample of ice and two samples taken from tables. Staphylococcus found in one sample of ice, four tray samples and one table sample.
  • Subway: Salmonella found on two tray samples and four table samples. One sample of ice was found to contain Staphylococcus, as did one tray sample.
  • RVS: A high level of bacteria found on one table, but neither Salmonella nor Staphylococcus detected.

Environmental health specialist Sian Buckley said: ‘In this environment there is a greater responsibility to ensure that practices are managed effectively.

‘Customers in hospital 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.’ 

Disappointing findings

A Costa Coffee spokesperson said the company was ‘very disappointed’ with the findings, and said nine of the ten stores investigated had received the top food hygiene rating of 5.

‘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.’

Addressing the problem

A spokesperson for Subway said each of the affected stores have had an additional deep clean over and above their regular cleaning schedule to ensure stringent cleanliness and food safety priorities are met.

An RVS spokesperson said they were ‘reassured’ by the results, which show ‘dedicated volunteers and staff succeeding in doing their utmost to keep our cafes clean’.

Watchdog Live airs tonight on BBC One at 8pm.


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