Currently, South Africa is fervently tackling an outbreak of Listeriosis, a disease caused by Listeria monocytogenes, a bacteria often found in fruits, water, soil and food, as is the case in South Africa where the bacteria is said to have been found in a processed meat product known as polony, a staple food item for South Africans.
The source of the outbreak was recently discovered after toddlers in Soweto fell ill from eating polony products traced to processed meat producers, Enterprise Foods factory, a subsidiary of Tiger Brands, in Polokwane‚ Limpopo. Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi made the announcement last Sunday after over 16 samples from the factory tested positive for the bacteria. A Rainbow Chicken factory is also being investigated after testing positive as well.
The South African Ministry of Health told Reuters that the source would have been discovered earlier had the meat processing industry cooperated in time. “The meat processing industry was not cooperating for months. They did not bring the samples as requested. We had long suspected that listeria can be found in these products,” the ministry’s communications director said.
Following the discovery, the National Consumer Commission (NCC) has issued a food recall and people have been advised to avoid all processed meat products that are sold as ready to eat. Since then, shoppers have formed long queues in retail outlets to return processed meat items and demand refunds. Also, Supermarkets chains Shoprite, Spar, Pick n Pay, and the likes have cleared out their processed meat shelves.
Neighbouring countries, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Kenya and Namibia promptly banned the importation of processed meat, fruits, and vegetables from South Africa, while recalling imports that were already in the market as a precautionary measure. Botswana said it would do the same, and Malawi has since stepped up screening of South African food imports.
The companies in question, Tiger Brands and Rainbow Chicken have suspended processed meat production and have alongside the NCC, embarked on a campaign across traditional and social media to recall their products from outlets locally and internationally. Yesterday, Tiger Brands said it had appointed an expert team to identify the cause of the outbreak. “We are well advanced in the national recall of all ready-to-eat chilled processed meat products, which we initiated on Sunday. We have appointed a team of local and international scientific experts to attempt (to) identify the root cause of LST6”, it said.
The World Health Organization has described the outbreak as the largest ever recorded globally. In the past year, Listeriosis has claimed at least 180 lives and infected about a thousand people. Listeria begins with flu-like symptoms fever, nausea, cold, muscle aches, and diarrhoea, which can take days or weeks to appear following the consumption of contaminated food. If the infection spreads to the nervous system, convulsions, stiff neck, headache, or loss of balance may occur. The aged and new-born are more susceptible to the disease, including people who have a weak immune system like diabetics and people with HIV.