The world’s largest listeriosis epidemic is now under control because meat products from Enterprise and Rainbow Chicken have been recalled, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi told the South African Parliament earlier this week.

“Since the recall, we have had fewer than five cases a week in the past five weeks compared to 40 a week before the recall,” Motsoaledi told Parliament.

According to South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) recent release, 1,033 laboratory confirmed cases, including 204 deaths, were reported from Jan. 1, 2017, to May 10, 2018.

Neonates 28 days of age and younger are the most affected age group, followed by adults ages 15 to 49.

Most cases have been reported from Gauteng Province (59 percent, 605/1 033), followed by Western Cape (13 percent, 130/1 033) and KwaZulu-Natal (7 percent, 75/1 033) provinces.

The findings of the NICD are in summary:

  • 92 percent of clinical isolates taken from case-patients belong to listeria sequence type 6 (ST6) and are genetically similar confirming that a single strain of listeria is responsible for the outbreak;
  • 86 percent of patients interviewed reported eating polony in the month before falling ill with listeriosis;
  • The isolates taken from patients and from the Enterprise Foods’ Polokwane production facility (the post-cooking area and final production clips and casing) are 99.99 percent similar, linking the L. monocytogenes ST6 strains;  and
  • 7 samples of ready-to-eat processed meat products taken at the Enterprise Factory in Polokwane on Feb. 15 this year tested positive for the ST6 outbreak strain. The samples were taken by the NICD accompanied by two food safety experts from the World Health Organization.

According to the NICD, these findings are irrefutable evidence that:

  • Enterprise Foods, and by extension Tiger Brands Limited, are the source of the listeria outbreak; and
  • The ST6 strain of Listeria responsible for the outbreak was not just found in the environment of the Enterprise Foods Polokwane operations as some commentators suggest, but also in the final product.

Tiger Brands has been transparent with its test results, which support the NICD findings.

Here is the Tiger Brands’ statement in full:

Results of Independent Tests carried out in respect of the presence of Listeria monocytogenes ST6 type (“LST6”) Shareholders are referred to the SENS announcement issued by the Company on 5 March 2018, relating to an order issued by the National Consumer Commission for the Company to conduct a recall of certain identified Enterprise products. In that announcement, it was stated that in a batch of one of its products tested by the Company on 14 February 2018, the presence of the ST6 strain could not be confirmed and that the relevant samples had been sent to an external laboratory for the identification of the strain. The test results were received on 15 March 2018, but these had proved inconclusive and, as a result, the samples were sent for further re-testing.

The purpose of this announcement is to update shareholders on the results of the independent laboratory re-testing which was carried out in respect of the presence of LST6 in the above samples which were manufactured at the Enterprise Polokwane processing facility. On  April 24, 2018, Tiger Brands received confirmation of the presence of LST6 in these samples. As reported previously, we have been actively engaging with the Department of Health and the National Institute of Communicable Diseases on our findings and will continue to collaborate with them on the actions taken to date to actively address our findings.

The Enterprise facilities in Polokwane, Pretoria, and Germiston still remain closed while remedial work continues. An arrangement has been concluded between Pork Packers (which is based in Clayville) and our pig suppliers to contract slaughter on their behalf with effect from May 2, 2018.

“Now it is time to take care of the victims and to work with government, the industry, and the public to see that an outbreak like this never, ever occurs again,” said Seattle food safety attorney Bill Marler, who is acting as a consultant on the South Africa Listeria Class Action.

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