The statistics as at 2 March 2018 showed that the current listeriosis outbreak had caused close to 180 fatalities and almost 950 laboratory-confirmed cases of listeriosis in South Africa since December 2017.
On 4 March 2018, the Minister of Health, Dr Motsoaledi, announced on eNCA that the source has been traced to ready-to-eat cold meat manufactured by Enterprise and Rainbow Chicken Limited. This has been confirmed by laboratory results.
“The source of the present outbreak can be confirmed to be the Enterprise food production facility in Polokwane,” said Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi on Sunday.
Environmental Health Practitioners (EHPs), together with the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD), and officials from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) had visited the food production site in Polokwane.
Results from this factory became available at midnight, prompting the Health Minister to hold an urgent media briefing in which he informed the public to avoid all processed meat products immediately.
“While we know that polony is definitely implicated, there is a risk of cross-contamination of other ready-to-eat processed meat products, either at production, distribution or retail. We advise members of the public to avoid all processed meat products that are sold as ready-to-eat,” said the Minister.
Processed meat products such as polony, viennas, russians, frankfurters, sausages and cold meat products were listed as no go zones by the Minister.
The cause of the outbreak strain ST6 was confirmed in 16 environmental samples collected from the Enterprise facility.
In addition to the Polokwane facility, another Enterprise facility located in Germiston, Gauteng, tested positive for Listeria but it is yet to be confirmed if it is the same ST6 strain.
While another facility, known as the Rainbow Chicken Limited (RCL), tested positive for Listeria, samples from this facility are not same strain that is causing the outbreak.
“Such contamination of ready-to-eat processed meat products constitutes a health risk. Also, over 10% of environmental samples collected by the EHPs at this facility have tested positive for L. monocytogenes,” said the Minister.
With this in mind, the Health Department issued a recall of these cold meat products for Enterprise and RCL.
“The National Consumer Commission has, in terms of Section 60(2) of the Consumer Protection Act, issued manufacturers concerned with safety recall notices,” said Minister Motsoaledi.
Compliance notices will also be issued to facilities in terms of the National Health Act.
The Health Minister reiterated his call for high risk people such as pregnant women, very young infants, elderly persons and anyone with a weakened immune system due to HIV and cancer to completely avoid all processed meats.
Food safety rules
Members of the public have been reminded that now is not the time to slack on their food safety precautions but rather a time to strengthen those habits.
“The recall of these products does not mean that members of the public must now relax and stop following food safety rules,” said Minister Motsoaledi.
The food safety rules include:
- Wash your hands before handling food or when coming back from the bathroom.
- Cook food thoroughly.
- Separate raw food from cooked food.
- Store food at an appropriate temperature.
- Wash uncooked food with clean running water.
- Only use pasteurized or boiled milk products.
World Health Organisation (WHO) country representative, Rufaro Chitaro confirmed that the Australian Listeriosis outbreak was caused by a different strain from the South African one.
“Australia has since last month seen 15 cases of Listeriosis, resulting in three fatalities caused by what is known as a rock melon. There is no evidence that these melons are exported to South Africa. The Australian strain is caused by ST240,” said Chitaro.
Gauteng is still leading the pack with the number of Listeriosis cases at 60%, followed by 13% in the Western Cape and 7% in KwaZulu-Natal and others sporadically spread out across the country.
NICD Head Juno Thomas said the public can use bleach to disinfect and thoroughly clean their fridges to avoid contamination.