South Africa has tightened regulations for processed meat products to try to avoid a repeat of the listeriosis outbreak in 2017 and 2018. A total of 1,060 cases were confirmed and 216 people died.

The largest ever reported outbreak of listeriosis included an alert in mid-June 2017, a peak in mid-November 2017, and identification of the outbreak source in mid-February 2018. It was traced to a ready-to-eat (RTE) processed meat product, called polony, made at a plant in Polokwane run by Enterprise Foods, which is owned by the multi-national corporation Tiger Brands.

Program of inspections
The new regulations follow an agreement between the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), and Department of Health (DoH) on final publication of the rules for processed meat products. The rules, which are intended to enable inspection of processing plants, will be enforced by the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications (NRCS), a body that reports to the DTI.

It applies to the handling, preparation, processing, packaging, refrigeration, freezing, chilling, labeling, marking and storage of heat treated and RTE processed meat products and includes microbiological and food safety related requirements of these items.

The NRCS is setting up a regulatory program of inspections throughout the country to enable government and industry to detect any food safety issues early.

Canned meats, raw boerewors, species or mixed species sausages, poultry meat and red meat including cattle, sheep, goat and pig that are untreated or treated so the product still looks like a normal raw carcass, cut, portion or pieces whether fresh or frozen are covered by other legislation.

After a stakeholder consultation, the rules for processed meat products, was gazetted on Aug. 8 and are scheduled to go into force this month.

“This denotes an era of governance where there is effective multi-sectoral collaboration to protect our people from environmental dangers whilst at the same time protecting food and job security,” said Minister of Health, Dr. Zweli Mkhize.

Potential food safety agency
The aim is to effectively regulate categories of processed meat products that are considered high risk so the health and safety of consumers is protected. The DTI will work with the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) to coordinate enforcement of the legislation as part of the Agricultural Product Standards Act.

Officials from DTI, DoH and DALRRD will also consider creating a dedicated food safety authority for South Africa.

Minister of Trade and Industry, Ebrahim Patel, said it was an important step to ensure consumers are protected against harmful foodborne bacteria.

“Our food industry is important to the country’s economic development and job creation. Jobs in the food industry must be secured through measures that provide consumers with appropriate protection. We have agreed that a task team comprising of officials from the three departments (dti, DoH and DALRRD) be nominated to consider a dedicated food safety authority for the country.”

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