The Listeria outbreak linked to a brand of polony in South Africa had a negative impact on student’s consumption patterns of cold meat, according to researchers.

The study analyzed the effect of the Listeria monocytogenes outbreak on consumption patterns of processed cold meat products by students at North West University, Mmabatho South Africa.

The 2017-2018 listeriosis outbreak was traced to contaminated processed meats produced by Enterprise Foods, a subsidiary of Tiger Brands, in Polokwane. About 1,060 cases were confirmed and 216 people died.

The North West University Mafikeng Campus has 12,864 registered students. Surveys and interviews were conducted from June to July 2018. Recently findings published in the IOP Conference Series: Earth and Environmental Science journal.

Difference between men and women
Students were questioned on their consumption patterns before the outbreak, effect of listeriosis on consumption of processed cold meat, and factors that affect eating patterns.

Of the 175 females surveyed, 60 of them continued eating processed cold meat but less often while the remaining 115 stopped consuming it. From 180 male students sampled only 12 changed their consumption pattern.

Male students consumed processed cold meat more than females regardless of news of the outbreak, indicating females are more concerned about food safety while males are more worried about hunger satisfaction and convenience.

Only 23 percent of surveyed students had a regular meal time because of academic obligations and differing schedules. This resulted in students grabbing something to eat quickly and most foods at their disposal were items with processed cold meat products, according to the researchers. The outbreak led to most students spending more time preparing meals and this may have a negative effect on academic performance.

Price and convenience
Fresh meat is more expensive than cold meat, it does not last as long and with the limited budget of students it becomes more economical to purchase processed cold meat. Those who preferred processed cold meat said so because of convenience and taste.

Students who lived on campus consumed less processed meats after the outbreak but those who resided off campus, and had to wait for classes to end before they could go home, would purchase food at the cafeteria or food stalls which served mostly processed cold meat.

Researchers found one way the outbreak did not influence student’s consumption of processed cold meat was because they did not have other options so most respondents said they only changed brands and not products.

Results showed there were socio-demographic factors which influence consumption of processed cold meat by students. Parameters such as gender, income, residence, consistent meal time, meal preferences, price of alternatives and academic level influenced consumption of cold meat before, during and after the outbreak.

Researchers said policymakers should try to eliminate reported difficulties faced by consumers in adapting to changes in consumption and purchase of recalled food during an outbreak by being product and brand specific and clear on what is safe to eat so people do not rely on rumours. A lot of confusion was caused by the recall and students also lost faith in other brands.

Salmonella school outbreak
Meanwhile, another study has detailed an outbreak where 164 children fell ill after eating processed maize meal, beans and vegetables at a South African school.

The outbreak occurred among schoolchildren who were given food by the government-sponsored National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) at a public primary day school in North West province, South Africa. It was the first large foodborne outbreak linked to NSNP in this region of the country. Despite the outbreak being in 2014 the study was only recently published in the Southern African Journal of Infectious Diseases.

Salmonella Heidelberg was the causative agent in 92 percent of the cases. The median duration of illness was two days with a case fatality rate of 0.6 percent. A hospitalization rate of 5.5 percent was estimated for severe cases. The main food product contaminated was samp, a processed maize meal, which was poorly stored and prepared.

A common bacterial strain of Salmonella Heidelberg was found in stool samples from 10 cases and two asymptomatic food handlers. Kitchen facility swabs were unsuitable for lab testing. Only cooked samp was confirmed to have a strain of Salmonella Heidelberg matching that isolated from stool samples. The outbreak occurred over five days.

Direct infection from eating contaminated samp was the most likely source of the outbreak but there were 18 additional secondary cases. Eleven of these, including a 4-year-old who died, occurred in a household following consumption of samp taken home after school.

Environmental health investigations revealed problems with food safety practices including lack of staff training and absence of records on food safety according to hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) principles.

“Regular training plus screening of food-handlers, strict personal hygiene, appropriate food-handling and storage and proper disinfection of environmental surfaces remain crucial to prevent further transmission of Salmonella Heidelberg,” said researchers.

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