Rush to remove listeriosis-linked products
Supermarkets across South Africa raced yesterday to withdraw processed meat products made at a factory found to be the origin of the world’s worst-ever listeriosis outbreak.
Mozambique and Namibia announced an immediate ban on processed meat imports from South Africa, while Malawi urged shops to remove the products from their shelves and Zambia later widened its ban to include dairy products, vegetables and fruit.
In Port Elizabeth, and elsewhere in the country, a frenzied clearing and cleaning of fridge shelves was under way, with shoppers queuing at stores and depots to return bags of items linked to the food-borne disease and demand refunds.
On Sunday, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi took the unprecedented step of advising people to avoid eating all processed meat products sold as “ready to eat” after announcing Enterprise Foods as the outbreak’s source.
The Department of Health ordered retailers to recall affected products immediately.
Enterprise Foods had withdrawn all ready-to-eat meat products and had closed the two factories manufacturing these products, Tiger Brands chief executive Lawrence MacDougall said yesterday. Tiger Brands owns Enterprise. However, MacDougall denied its products had been shown to be responsible for the deaths.
“There is no direct link with the deaths to our products,” he told a news conference.
He did, however, acknowledge that the government had linked the ST6 strain of listeria bacteria detected in Enterprise facilities with the outbreak that has resulted in 180 deaths and nearly 1 000 confirmed cases.
“We are being extra cautious and vigilant, we are recalling all products made from the two facilities,” he said, adding that the government had only ordered the company to withdraw three product lines.
“Any loss of life is tragic. It is devastating for me to have our products linked to this outbreak.”
Reacting to criticism that it had been slow to act, the government blamed a lack of cooperation by producers of cold meats for a delay in finding the source of the disease. Motsoaledi named Enterprise’s food production plant in Polokwane‚ Limpopo‚ as the confirmed source of the unique strain of listeria.
The Rainbow Chicken factory in Sasolburg also had listeria, but a different strain from that linked to the outbreak.
When The Herald visited Bay stores yesterday, fridge shelves were being cleared of affected products.
Shoprite, Pick n Pay, SPAR and Woolworths store managers all referred queries to their head offices which, in turn, have urged consumers to return the meats for refunds.
At the Rink Street SPAR, a notice to customers explained what was being done.
Pick n Pay and Checkers said on Sunday they were immediately withdrawing all Enterprise and Rainbow products from their stores and would give customers full refunds for the products they returned.
Woolworths also said it was recalling all products linked to the disease.
With concerns being expressed over those more at risk like young children and the elderly, four of five creches canvassed said they were well aware of the disease and were monitoring the situation.
Lisa Black, of Little Lads and Ladies in Newton Park, said the school had communicated with parents to ensure they knew about the affected products.
“We used our WhatsApp group to inform the parents about the disease,” she said.
Chantelle Momberg, of Happy Land Family Care in Lorraine, said they had also communicated with parents via WhatsApp.
She said they were monitoring the babies closely to check for any of the symptoms associated with the disease.
The Maranatha Frail Care Centre said they had discarded all products associated with the disease.
Shares in Tiger Brands and RCL Foods – both of which are being investigated – tumbled yesterday over their links to the outbreak.
Both firms, which have said they are cooperating fully with the authorities, have suspended processed meat production at their plants.
The source of the outbreak was traced after preschool children fell ill from eating polony.
The health department said it had struggled to confirm the cause of the listeria outbreak because companies in the sector had not been providing samples as requested.
“The meat processing industry was not cooperating for months,” health department spokesman Popo Maja said. “They did not bring samples as requested. “We had long suspected that listeria can be found in these products.
“It is not that we are incompetent, or that we have inadequate resources.”
Maja said all firms in the industry were being examined.
Authorities have not said when they could conclude tests on RCL Foods.
Shares in Tiger Brands sank as much as 13%, before recouping some losses to trade 7.5% lower at R392.98.
RCL Foods fell more than 6% but later recovered to trade down 3.5% at R16.60.
Meanwhile, South Africa could see one of the biggest class action lawsuits if families of those who died and those treated in hospital after contracting listeriosis decide to sue.
“There is a possibility of a class action,” consumer lawyer Janusz Luterek said.
“Whoever is responsible [for the outbreak] could face a class action. The damages claimed and legal costs incurred could be huge.” – Additional reporting by Reuters