London's Pulse: Medical Officer of Health reports 1848-1972

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London County Council 1934

[Report of the Medical Officer of Health for London County Council]

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and one of the Council's pathologists. The examination of pathological material
showed that no pus was present, and there was no evidence of any organisms of the
salmonella or dysentery groups. No particular article of diet was implicated and no
particular group of inmates was involved. Attention was directed to the possibility
that infection might have been due to "carriers" of pathogenic organisms, but after
detailed investigation no evidence was found to support this theory. On the other
hand, there was no evidence for or against the possibility of the outbreak being due
to toxins of these organisms. There was no evidence of metallic poisoning.
On 20th February a woman and three of her family and a child living in the same
house were admitted to St. Andrew's hospital, suffering from food poisoning. The
medical officer of health of Poplar reported that the mother had stated that she had
bought a tin of tongue from an itinerant vendor in a street market. Examination
of pathological material and of the incriminated food was carried out in the Council's
laboratories. No significant findings were made; enterococci and staphylococci
aurei were, however, found in a portion of the tongue and it is possible that these
organisms were the cause of the illness. No evidence of metallic poisoning could be
traced. The borough medical officer of health was unable to trace any tins of tongue
of the same brand in shops in the area. He ascertained, however, that one of the
patients was employed at a wharf in Stepney largely connected with the canned goods
trade and certain inferences led to the conclusion that the suspected tin was not
purchased in the street market. Inquiries at the wharf showed that there was in store
part of a parcel of 53 cases of tinned ox tongue of Russian origin of a similar type
which had been landed from various shipments, the landings taking place from
November, 1932, onwards. This parcel was transferred from one firm to another
and the latter asked for the tins to be re-examined; as a result of the re-examination,
on 23rd February, a number of the tins was found to be unsound. It is possible
that the suspected tin had been obtained from this source prior to 23rd February. The
bacteriological examination in the Council's laboratory of the contents of eight tins
(four sound and four slack) showed the presence of organisms in two tins only (one
sound and one slack). In the case of the sound tin, the organisms were non-pathogenic.
In the slack tin, organisms were found resembling those isolated from the
tongue which was suspected to have caused the illness of the five patients. There was
no evidence of the presence of any metallic poisons. As a result of the bacteriological
findings, the medical officer of health of Stepney had all the slack tins destroyed.
An outbreak of illness in which 22 persons were affected occurred in June in
the boroughs of Lewisham (18), Deptford (2) and Camberwell (2). The suspected
cause of illness was boiled silverside of beef, prepared at a factory. The medical
officer of health of Camberwell stated that the hygienic conditions under which
the food was prepared were in every respect satisfactory; that the meat in question
was probably not thoroughly cooled prior to being placed in the refrigerator, and that
putrefaction may have taken place owing to the rapid cooling of the exterior and the
consequent sealing of heat inside the joint.
In July, 21 persons were affected by an outbreak of illness amongst a staff of
persons employed in the service, etc., of food in the borough of St. Marylebone. The
patients were taken ill after eating various foods left over from a dinner party on
ihe previous evening. Examinations of food stuffs and specimens from the patients
were made in the Council's laboratories. Bacteriological examination failed to reveal
any pathogenic bacteria; the chemical examination showed a mere trace of lead in
the vomits, but this, no doubt, was derived from sardines which contained 14 and
12 parts per million of lead in opened and unopened tins respectively, this amount
being of the order of that frequently found in tinned sardines.

The following statement shows the age and sex incidence in all cases notified during the year:—

la 10 eases (3 male, 7 female) the ages were not stated.