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Information sought from South African Listeria victims

The biggest listeriosis outbreak to date in the world, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) is asking victims in South Africa to list everything they can remember eating in the past month with the hopes of identifying a source.

Of the 872 confirmed cases, 164 people have died, 43 percent of which were babies less than a month old.

“Given the scale of our mystery outbreak, it has led to what one delegate termed ‘listeria hysteria’, at a listeriosis workshop hosted by the South African Association of Food Science and Technology (SAAFoST) in Johannesburg on Wednesday,” according to a story from The Times in Johannesburg.

Lucia Anelich, SAAFoST president, said given that a single, unique “homegrown” strain of listeriosis was identified in more than 90 percent of the confirmed cases, it was likely that the source was a single food product or range of food products consumed often and by both rich and poor across South Africa; “Cold meats, for example, range from viennas and polony to more expensive slices of ham.”

Since proper cooking temperatures kill Listeria, the food source is thought to be a fruit, vegatables or a ready-to-eat food item. Additionally, the possibility of ill-treated irrigation water is a likely culpret of the pathogen.

A food safety expert and an epidemiologist with listeriosis experience have been sent to South Africa by the World Health Organization (WHO) has sent to help identify the source of the outbreak. According to a WHO spokesman, a “strong lead” is pending with laboratory results.

South Africa is in desperate need for an update to their entire food system, a call for “a dramatic overhaul of our legislation and the entire food safety system.”

For example there were fewer than 2,000 environmental health practitioners responsible for monitoring all food outlets from restaurants to informal vendors; the WHO said that South Africa needs 5,000 of them.

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