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Tiger Brands wants new standards and food safety group

After listeriosis outbreaks in North America in recent years, the responsible parties involved usually responded with promises on their own to enact more stringent standards.

That’s definitely how Canada’s Maple Leaf Foods and Colorado’s Rocky Ford Cantaloupe Growers Association responded to deadly outbreaks. They acted on their own to make improvements.

In South Africa, there’s a different twist. Not only is the country experiencing the worst listeriosis outbreak in known history, corporate executives say the government needs to step up first.

Tiger Brands, the company responsible for the listeriosis outbreak involving 1,038 illnesses and 204 deaths so far, wants the government to adopt further food safety and hygiene standards before it puts its stockholders at risk again. Tiger Brands is South Africa’s largest food company.

The company’s CEO Lawrence MacDougall also wants South Africa to set up a food safety council.

“In a post listeriosis environment, you would probably have hoped there were industry standards and the department of health and industry was collaborating closer to keep pace with developments in the industry and within immune deficient inviduals,” MacDougall recently said.

“I would like us to get there.”

South Africa’s current standard is 100 colony-forming units (CFUs) per 100-gram sample, according to MacDougall. He wants to know where South Africa is going to “end up.”

“Collaborative discussions have not taken place,” he contends.

The “CFS” term is an estimate of viable bacteria or cells measures by sampling. When adopted, producers would be required to certify a lower number at the end of the product’s shelf life.

The Tiger Brands chief says the government did not share any expectations about those details last month and was hoping for “broader collaborative discussions after this.”

Currently, the “cause” standard, South African National Standard 885, is a voluntary industry guideline. It was last updated in September 2011. It is a food factory or processing facility standard for product ingredients covering microbiological and chemical examination.

Tiger Brands, since March 4 has closed its ready-to-eat meat plants, including its polony production plant. MacDougall says he wants the new food standards to be in place before those three plans are reopened.

MacDougall said he’s waiting for consumer research to come back before the plants reopen, and there is no date for the re-start. Tiger Brands is conducting a ” root cause” analysis of the outbreak. It previously operated under a 10 CFUs standard.

MacDougall says the company had not seen anything that would “indicate negligence.” He says the proposed food safety council could operate as either a private or government entity. He has acknowledged the outbreak strain, known as ST6, was found in Tiger Brand plants.

South Africa has lost 2,000 jobs in the country’s pork business since ready-to-eat meat products, including cheap processed meat products, became caught up in the listeriosis recall. A 40 percent slump in pork prices resulted.

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