Header graphic for print

Food Safety News

Breaking news for everyone's consumption

Listeria outbreak likely burning out; politicians still adding fuel

Update:  The world’s worst listeriosis outbreak now includes 1,019 laboratory-confirmed cases including 199 deaths. (Listeriosis outbreak situation report_22April 2018_fordistribution)

The 1,011 laboratory-confirmed listeriosis cases, including 193 deaths, in South Africa are still creating political fissures in the country.

Last week, there was another dust-up with a Member of Parliment (MP) from the opposition Democratic Alliance party who called out the government. MP Patricia Kopane said the government had instructed Port Health Services to stop testing imported chicken products for listeria.

Kopane made public a letter from the Chief Environmental Health and Port Health Services that calls off testing of imported chicken for listeria.

Patricia Kopane

It says that since South Africa’s Minister of Health Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi has found ready-to-eat meat processed in the country is the source of the current listeriosis outbreak, further testing of imports is no longer required.

Kopane claims that “it still remains unclear how these factories were contaminated in the first place.” She called on the government, which is controlled by the late Nelson Mandela’s party, the African National Congress (ANC), to take three actions.

She said South Africa needs an “over-arching” independent body to regulate and monitor food safety and security with “norms and standards” to ensure the containment of the outbreak. She also wants “standards, regulations, and mechanisms for testing trade, agriculture and other food industries.”

Kopane said she finds it “outrageous that the Health Department would stop testing imported meats, considering that it has just recently been revealed that Australia has been exporting listeria-contaminated products.”

Aaron Motsoaledi

Earlier, Kopane claimed the government was “prematurely scapegoating” the Enterprise and Rainbow facilities in South Africa because it does not have an emergency plan in place to “contain this outbreak.”

Finally, the South African politician is questioning why the government has not found the “primary source” of the listeriosis outbreak, which presumably means where the Listeria monocytogenes came from before the food manufacturer allowed the pathogen to infiltrate its facility.

Since the March 4 announcement by the government that ready-to-eat processed meat products manufactured at Enterprise Foods’ Polokwane production facility were contaminated, there has been a dramatic decline in new case reports.

Some new cases were expected because of the long shelf life of the implicated ready-to-eat meats and because the incubation period for listeriosis runs as long as 70 days.

The High Court of South Africa will ultimately determine responsibility for the outbreak. Prominent South Africa trial attorney Richard Spoor on April 1 filed $2 billion lawsuits against Tiger Brands. The 501-page complaint proposes the court allow several classes of litigants to proceed.

As of  April 9, a total of 1011 laboratory-confirmed listeriosis cases have been reported to NICD since January 2017.

Most cases have been reported from Gauteng Province (59 percent, 592/1011) followed by Western Cape (12 percent, 125/1011) and KwaZulu-Natal (7 percent, 72/1011) provinces. Cases have been diagnosed in both public (64 percent, 652/1011) and private (36 percent, 359/1011) healthcare sectors.

Listeria monocytogenes was most commonly isolated/detected in blood culture (73 percent, 733/1011), followed by CSF (21 percent, 213/1011). Where age was reported (n=985), ages range from birth to 93 years (median 18 years) and 41 percent (418/1011) are neonates aged ≤28 days. Of neonatal cases, 96 percent  (402/418)had an early-onset disease (birth to ≤6 days). Females account for 56 percent (549/979) of cases where gender is reported. Final outcome data is available for 68 percent (691/1011) of cases, of which 28 percent (193/691) died.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)

© Food Safety News