Is there a link between the world’s worst listeriosis outbreak in South Africa and Brazil’s broken and scandal-plagued meat and poultry industries?

And could that link be something called “white slime?”

Before there were any answers to these questions or others, South African’s health minister promised the Parliament that the government would provide “all the information … all the data” to those members of the community who want to litigate.”

It’s been a week since the country and the world learned that at least two South African processed meat producers are responsible for 948 laboratory-confirmed cases of listeriosis and 180 deaths. The country is still reeling. The outbreak is the largest ever recorded on the planet, according to the World Health Organization.

This 3D illustration of Listeria monocytogenes shows the gram-positive bacterium with flagella.

The small, radical socialist party, Black First Land First, went so far as to drop murder charges off at the Hillbrow Police Station. Party leader Andile Mngxitama said the outbreak deaths amount to “murder.” He said Enterprise Foods was complicit in a corporate cover-up and merits murder charges.

The Listeria monocytogenes outbreak strain, known as ST6, was found in the Polokwane processing plant operated the Tiger Brands subsidiary of Enterprise Foods. More than 16 environmental samples taken at the facility were positive for ST6.

Tiger Brands recalled all of its Enterprise ready-to-eat meat products and “amplified its testing for listeria.” It claims not to have yet confirmed the presence of ST6 but did find another “low detection strain” in February.

Officials suspect they are also going to find Listeria monocytogenes SY6 at Rainbow Chicken Limited (RCL) Foods. It ceased production at its plant located in Wolwehoek. The health department is awaiting test results. Rainbow recalled all its “polony” products.

As for Brazil and “white slime,” it’s a theory by a South African meat scientist. Here’s how it goes.

South African meat processors must produce a product that is 75 percent “meat equivalent” under a law that dates back to the 1970s. The “meat equivalent” determination involves the amount of nitrogen present. Any protein is acceptable —soy, pork fat or mechanically deboned chicken.

Mechanically deboned chicken, sometimes called “white slime,” is a popular choice. In other words, pureed chicken bits that may contain small pieces of bone, are spun into a paste that is used to make processed meats.

South Africa imported more than 445 million pounds of “while slime” in 2017. Most of it came from Brazil. That’s why meat Professor Louw Hoffman thinks it is possible the ST6 strain of Listeria monocytogenes behind the outbreak in South Africa “may have originated from overseas.”

Numerous countries, including the United States, have banned Brazilian meat and poultry because of the country’s ongoing food safety scandal, which most recently has involved laboratories faking test results.

The University of Stellenbosch’s Hoffman said South African polony and viennas contain the imported chicken substance to keep prices down for low-income populations needing an affordable protein source.

Through its embassy in Pretoria, Brazil denies it has any involvement in the South African outbreak. South Africa just began testing imported meat for Listeria on Jan. 9.

“White slime” is likely a naming spin-off from “pink slime,” which was a very controversial nickname for “lean finely textured beef” produced by Beef Products Inc. in Dakota Dunes, SD.

Hoffman first shared his suspicions about the root source of the Listeria with Helena Wasserman of Business Insider SA.

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