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EHPs track source of world’s biggest listeriosis outbreak

Stuart Spear08/03/2018 - 11:12

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Health minister Aaron Motsoaledi
Health minister Aaron Motsoaledi

South African EHPs have traced the source of the world’s biggest listeriosis outbreak to a meat processing factory in the northern South African province of Limpopo.

The announcement on Sunday follows an ongoing investigation by the South African National Institute of Communicable Disease (NICD)to find the source of an ST6 strain of listeria monocytogenes that has, to date, claimed 180 lives with 948 laboratory confirmed cases.

South African minister of health Aaron Motsoaledi announced:  ‘Listeria monocytogenes was isolated from over 30 per cent of the environmental samples collected from the site which happens to be the Enterprise factory in Polokwane.’

The discovery followed an investigation by EHPs accompanied by technical advisors from the World Health Organization who visited the Enterprise Foods factory in Polokwane Limpopo where polony, a ready-to-eat sausage, is produced

The NICD confirmed to the health minister at midnight on Saturday that they had received positive confirmation that the outbreak strain had been found in environmental samples taken from the factory.

The factory is owned by Tiger Brands, one of South Africa’s biggest consumer food producers. Preliminary results also suggest that listeria may also be present in another Enterprise factory located in Germiston in the East Rand region of Gauteng.

‘In the Enterprise factory in Germiston listeria has been found but we could not wait to complete the sequence typing before issuing a warning,’ said Mr Motsoaledi.

EHPs are investigating a third suspect polony producer at the Free State factory owned by RCL Foods.

The listeria outbreak investigation, which has been ongoing since 1 January, had a major breakthrough last month when a link between the ST6 strain of listeria monocytogenes and polony was established after five young children presented with severe gastrointestinal symptoms from a crèche in Soweto. 

Investigating EHPs established the ST6 link between two polony products found at the crèche and the strain of listeria monocytogenes contracted by the children. 

The more recent findings have triggered a recall of implicated ready-to-eat cold meat products.  

Consumers have been advised to return meats to retailers or to dispose of it. It is estimated that around 4,000 tons of recalled meats will be sent to waste dumps.

The Department of Environmental Affairs announced yesterday that waste companies would be allowed to dispose of the food waste in hazardous waste landfills rather than being restricted to medical waste sites. 

The NICD has warned that food safety measures in place at the Limpopo factory were inadequate for the type of foods being produced. ‘They do a little testing but it is not sufficient,’ said Dr Juno Thomas head of enteric diseases for the NICD.  

Spokeswoman for Tiger Brands, Nevashnee Naicker, denied safety measure were inadequate saying: ‘stringent monitoring and testing protocols including the detection and management of pathogens viruses and bacteria, including listeria. [were in place].’

Mr Motsoaledi warned that one of the problems leading to the outbreak was a lack of resourcing for municipalities leading to the employment of health inspectors becoming a low priority. 

He warned consumers to avoid eating all processed meats that are sold as ready to eat because of the possibility of cross contamination in shops.

Dr Thomas told the national paper Times Live that there has been a two-week delay between the investigation of the Limpopo factory and the positive listeria sample due to a lack of solution used for testing for listeria bacteria.   


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