Five years ago, three-year-old Jordin Du Preez was fed a polony sandwich at her preschool. The Tiger Brand’s polony in the sandwich was contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes and nearly killed Jordin and her classmates and left them with debilitating health consequences.

The Tiger Brands polony listeriosis outbreak began at the start of 2017 and was officially declared over in September 2018 with 1,065 confirmed cases and at least 218 deaths. 

Jordin Dupreez fell sick with Listeriosis at the age of three.

Food contaminated with Listeria may not look or smell spoiled. Symptoms of Listeria infection can include vomiting, nausea, persistent fever, muscle aches, severe headache, and neck stiffness. Young children are particularly susceptible to the infection.

Candess Du Preez picked up her 3-year-old daughter Jordin and her cousin Riley from their crèche (preschool) where they attended school daily. On Thursdays, the children were fed polony sandwiches for their afternoon snack.

But when the children returned home, something was off. Neither Jordin or Riley ate dinner.

“The next day, they woke up as normal,” Du Preez told Food Safety News. Candess and her mother walked Jordin and Riley to the crèche. They left early as the kids were being fed breakfast.

As they walked to school, Du Preez noticed her daughter was more tired than usual. “I thought she was just being tired, and I asked, ‘Okay, are you sure you’re okay?’”

“When we got to the crèche, we just thought it was one of those days they were tired. We left them and excused ourselves like normal.”

But the day turned out to be anything but normal. By early that afternoon all of the children in the crèche had to be rushed to a nearby clinic.

“When I got there, Jordin was already on oxygen. Jordin was the only one at that point on oxygen, the others were just vomiting and lame. They were tired, and lame, and vomiting,” Du Preez said. “She was blue.”

Jordin’s parents were terrified that their daughter might die. 

Riley was the smallest of the children from the crèche sick with Listeriosis.

For the next week, her parents, Joseph and Candess Du Preez, stayed as close as possible. “We slept in the parking lot by the hospital, because we didn’t want to leave her.”

During the week that the children were quarantined, investigators came to the homes of the parents to see if they had contracted the illness there. As Seventh-Day Adventists and vegans, the Du Preez do not eat meat. The Du Preez were confident the polony connected to the national outbreak wasn’t from their home.

The investigators also searched the crèche, and there they found a piece of the polony sandwich. The polony found was the Tiger Brand’s polony implicated in South Africa’s Listeria outbreak.

Jordin was uncomfortable and couldn’t sleep without her parents. She routinely removed IVs, making it difficult for doctors to administer treatment. The Du Preezs would see their child in the morning with swollen feet. She was in intense pain from headaches and vomiting, and doctors were concerned about Jordin’s kidneys and the damage they were suffering.

“It was a terrible thing to go through. It was life and death.”

Jordin, Riley and the other children began to improve and were able to return to their homes, though treatment for their Listeriosis continued for the next month.

Jordin and her cousin Riley still deal with the complications of their infection.

Jordin and her cousin Riley are eight now, but they still deal with the complications of their infection, including constant pain and headaches. Jordin needed sinus surgery to treat her sleep apnea.

Du Preez says dealing with the health issues has been emotionally and financially brutal. 

When asked if she holds any resentment toward Tiger Brands, Du Preez said, “I do. I do. I do. 

“They are guilty, but it’s been so many years now and we are still suffering, the children are still suffering. They are found guilty, yet they deny and deny.

“It’s been five draining years. It’s been very draining.

“Just because we went to a government hospital does not mean we are not paying. We are paying. My husband almost lost his job. He is the only breadwinner in the house.

“How many other families have been affected?” she asked.

Along with the 1,000 people affected by the Tiger Brand’s listeriosis outbreak, Jordin is represented by Richard Spoor Attorneys and is still in a legal battle with the company over damages caused by the outbreak.

Tiger Brands has been fighting the lawsuit relating to its part in the deadly outbreak. The Seattle firm of Marler Clark LLP is serving as a consultant for the case attorneys. The attorneys are representing the victims on a contingency basis.

To read more about the impact of this outbreak, please see:

More background information about the 2017-2018 South Africa Listeria outbreak can be found here.

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“They took away something that I was waiting for almost eight years of my life.”

Over the course of their first eight years of marriage, South African Thenjiwe Dodo and her husband tried to have a child. In 2018, after eight years, and eight miscarriages, Thenjiwe was one month away from delivering her firstborn.

Thenjiwe Dodo’s son died 16 days after birth.

Thenjiwe was extra careful about what she ate while pregnant, knowing the fragility of the life inside her.  At eight months into her pregnancy, Thenjiwe had no way of knowing that Tiger Brand polony was contaminated with Listeria.

“When I bought the polony I knew I could trust them with my life. And I knew that because I was pregnant, I needed to eat more healthy than ever,” she told Food Safety News.

The Tiger Brands polony listeriosis outbreak began at the start of 2017 and was officially declared over in September 2018 with 1,065 confirmed cases and at least 218 deaths. 

Thenjiwe suffered through a terrible bout of listeriosis that left her and her child’s life in danger,  At the time, she had no idea it was connected to the polony she had eaten. It wasn’t until thousands of others in South Africa became sick, and the connection was made to the polony, that Thenjiwe remembered having had the Tiger Brand product before her illness. 

Though Thenjiwe recovered from her lengthy fight with listeriosis, and she gave birth. Her newborn son was severely impacted by the infection and died just 16 days after his birth.

Thenjiwe has a lot of anger toward Tiger brands.

“I do not buy anything from that brand anymore. They took away something that I was waiting for almost eight years of my life.”

Along with the 1,000 people affected by the Tiger Brand’s listeriosis outbreak, Thenjiwe is represented by Richard Spoor Attorneys and is still in a legal battle with the company over damages caused by the outbreak.

Tiger Brands has been fighting the lawsuit relating to its part in the deadly outbreak. The Seattle firm of Marler Clark LLP is serving as a consultant for the case attorneys. The attorneys are representing the victims on a contingency basis, meaning without charging them. 

To read about the impact of this outbreak, please see:

More background information about the 2017-2018 South Africa Listeria outbreak can be found here.

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

A South African woman has spoken out about how her newborn baby spent the first 12 days of his life in hospital because of a Listeria infection that was part of the country’s largest ever outbreak.

The listeriosis outbreak began at the start of 2017 and was declared over in September 2018 with 1,065 confirmed cases and 218 deaths. It was traced in March 2018 to a ready-to-eat processed meat product, similar to baloney and called polony, made at a plant in Polokwane run by Enterprise Foods, which at that time was owned by multinational Tiger Brands.

Phumzile Banze fell ill in March 2018 and had to have her first child by an emergency C-section.

“I used to pray a lot. I would say to others affected by the outbreak that they should put their hope in the hands of God because I lost hope that my son would live seeing that people were dying because of this outbreak. I was so excited to have him in my life but this outbreak didn’t allow me to have the chance to celebrate my newborn. His hair was cut off. I didn’t get to enjoy him that much for the first few days of his life.”

Sibusiso, who is now 3 years old, had to go hospital for check-ups until he was aged 1 but has since made a full recovery.

Almost lost their first child
Phumzile said she started feeling sick while pregnant.

Sibusiso in hospital in 2018

“I had diarrhea and I used to collapse but I didn’t know it was Listeria. I had pains so I went to the local clinic but they told me the baby was not due. I went back home and stayed home a week or two before going to the hospital,” said the 24-year-old.

“When they looked they said the baby’s heartrate was beating slowly and I was about to lose the baby. So I had to rush for an emergency C-section. When he arrived, the baby went to ICU. I gave birth on March 21 then I started to see the baby after March 23. When I arrived the baby was not breathing well, the moment I gave him milk he was better but when I asked the doctors they didn’t tell me what it was.

“Luckily I found a doctor who explained to me that he had an infection in the brain. The infection was now starting to spread to the whole body. They took blood to the lab and tested it. They found it was Listeria so they had to put him on a drip for him to get antibiotics.

“For 12 days he stayed at the hospital so I used to go and visit him each and every day. I was discharged on March 23 so I didn’t get any treatment for Listeria. My son was at the hospital for the first 12 days of his life.”

The stay-at-home mum was with her family and partner, Bongani, in Gauteng, Johannesburg at the time of the incident.

“I used to crave Kota (a type of South African sandwich) and buy them a lot. One day I didn’t have money so I told my partner Bongani to come with polony and when he came back with it I used to eat it. We didn’t take it seriously about this outbreak. I had never heard of Listeria. I never used to watch the news so every time when I have craved Kota I would go and buy it because it has Russians, polony and viennas. I used to eat it by itself, a week didn’t go by without me eating Kota. Now, I don’t eat polony anymore.”

Phumzile said she doesn’t plan too much for the future but hopes to stay happy and healthy together with her family as the couple now also have a 4-month-old baby girl.

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South African Nthabiseng Zaza liked traveling and gospel music. She liked shoes, especially designer brands like Michael Kors. “She was the life of the party,” Matlhogonolo said, Nthabiseng’s 26-year-old sister. 

Nthabiseng was a person who loved family above all else. She always wanted to have kids and was blessed with a daughter, Onthathile, who turns 5 this month. Matlhogonolo Chantell and her twin sister Michell Masego Zaza are raising their sister’s daughter. 

Onthathile doesn’t remember much of her mother, who at the age of 35 died from listeriosis in Oct. 2018. Her death was part of a Listeria outbreak in South Africa that was traced to Tiger Brand’s polony — processed deli meat similar to baloney.

However, it wasn’t until 2020 that the family found out what had caused their Nthabiseng’s mysterious illness. They knew only that many people in the country were getting sick.

Nthabiseng died from Listeria poisoning on Oct. 16, 2018.

The listeriosis outbreak began at the start of 2017 and was officially declared over in September 2018 with 1,065 confirmed cases and 218 deaths. 

 In 2018, Nthabiseng was a new mom trying to adjust to the loss of her mother. Her partner, Onthathile’s father, had passed away before he and Nthabiseng could be married. In the two years after his death, she would lose both of her parents. 

Nthabiseng had already defied odds in having Onthathile. After a liver transplant in 2009, and constant medication in the aftermath, Nthabiseng was told she had only a small chance of being able to have a baby.

 She was in and out of the hospital after her transplant, constantly having her liver checked to make sure it was still functioning properly. Her sister said the family had developed a system and routine to make sure Nthabiseng stayed healthy.

 “At a certain time, she takes her meds. She exercises and drinks water. We take a walk in the park. And we pray a lot,” Matlhogonolo said.

Nthabiseng and her family lived in a suburb of Johannesburg,  South Africa, where a trip to the hospital could take as long as three hours depending on the traffic. When Nthabiseng began to get sick, those hospital trips became more frequent. 

 Nthabiseng’s battle with listeria poisoning

After a liver transplant, Nthabiseng was told there was only a small chance that she would ever be able to have children.

 “It was very quick,” Matlhogonolo said. At first the sisters tried to nurse her at home. “Trying to nurse this thing, it was out of control and they could not keep her fever down. And they were referring to her saying that her kidney and liver had become poison in the system. We thought maybe the liver was rejected by her system.”

“She would vomit a lot and she couldn’t keep food down. She lost so much weight. Her eyes were yellow. Her eyes were turning yellow, so we knew something was wrong and something was eating her,” Matlhogonolo said. “She had diarrhea, that wouldn’t stop. It was crazy. She lost so much weight because she was dehydrated.”

The sisters thought that maybe it was tuberculosis or asthma. But they quickly realized this illness was different. “She was not herself. She really changed. She also had these night sweats, like these cold sweats, and we couldn’t understand. And it just kept going on and going on.”

 Nthabiseng was placed into a high care intensive care unit.

Nthabiseng’s family knew that others in the country were getting sick with something similar, but nobody could tell them what was going on. “The hospital and everything and nobody really knew what was making us sick,” Matlhogonolo said. “And we really didn’t understand.”

 Nthabiseng died Oct. 16, 2018, one month after the outbreak had been declared over.

It took until 2020 for a law firm in South Africa to connect the dots and tell Matlhogonolo and her sister what happened to Nthabiseng and that it was connected to the Tiger Brands outbreak. “We found it out this last year what really happened. What really caused it.”

“They found our names in the files and that we could be compensated if we pursued them. I mean we didn’t know, because we were just trying to bury our sister and find our lives,” Matlhogonolo said. The family in a matter of years had gone from six at home to three. 

“The year before both of our parents died and then our sister died, so a lot of things had happened. Our main focus was for us to like to find our feet. Try to find food. Try to make this baby go to kindergarten. My twin and I were like 24. It was too much to take in. So we just had to grow up.”

 Life after Nthabiseng’s passing

After Nthabiseng’s death, her twin sisters, Matlhogonolo Chantell and Michell Masego, had to take over caring for her daughter.

Matlhogonolo wishes Tiger Brands officials had come forward as soon as the outbreak happened. She wishes the multinational company would compensate people and make the public aware that the outbreak was its fault. But she isn’t angry at Tiger Brands. “It’s not good for us to hold onto rage or anger. We understand that things do go wrong in life. But I am disappointed that a big brand like them has never stepped out and looked for people that have had their lives damaged. A lot of people lost their loved ones.”

 “You can imagine as young as we were having no one to rely on, living in a society where they aren’t supporting young black women is really hard. It is a struggle.”

“Knowing that Tiger Brands have done something like this, and they have never come out and said that they are sorry. And really show remorse and compensate. I am really disappointed in their brand. I would say I am disappointed, but I am just praying that justice is going to be served.”

“What I am crying for is her child. She deserves quality education. She deserves quality life. I am being like 26 there are still a lot of things that I need to do for myself and for if I grow old. And being a student like I am, they didn’t think about how people like us really need to be taken care of.”

 “They should make amends for the mistakes.”

 More background information about the 2017-2018 South Africa Listeria Outbreak can be found here.

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 I was an active advocate for the Food Safety Modernization Act, landmark legislation which was signed into law Jan. 4, 2011, and is now being implemented throughout the nation. I don’t have a background in nutrition, microbiology, epidemiology or agriculture. My sole qualification as a food safety advocate, is that I’m a consumer and the mother of a survivor of the 2006 E. coli outbreak linked to fresh, packaged spinach. 

My daughter Rylee was 8 years old; it was two days before her ninth birthday. She had gone to the grocery store that day with her stepfather, she picked out the cake mix and frosting for her birthday cake, and she chose the package of “triple washed, ready to eat” spinach we used to make our dinner. We didn’t know it at the time, but that spinach was contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. One week later, my daughter was fighting for her life. She spent 35 days in the hospital, 24 of those days in the ICU and 11 days on a ventilator.

Rylee and I continue to advocate for safe food by working with STOP Foodborne Illness, a non-profit group that strives to prevent foodborne illness and supports people directly impacted by it. As part of our work, we’ve come to know another organization dedicated to preventing foodborne illness – the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA).

My first experience with LGMA was in June 2013, when the organization invited a small group of food safety advocates from Stop Foodborne Illness to tour farms and processing facilities located in the Central Coast of California. Rylee was still dealing with the long-term affects of her illness, and it was my belief that she was just a faceless statistic to the industry that sold the spinach that made her ill. We were apprehensive at best.

However, what we saw during that trip was not what we expected.  We were given an overview of LGMA’s food safety program and procedures and saw it in action on farms and in processing facilities; from the workers harvesting the crops, to the packaged product ready to ship. It was clear that the safety of the product was taken into account at every step.

But it wasn’t the processes, or the extensive government audits, or even the science behind it all that stood out to me. It was the people. I met farmers, harvesters, packers, and shippers who feed their children and grandchildren from the same fields they work on. The leafy greens we buy at the store do not come from an impersonal corporate entity. They come from real people; many working on family farms, doing their jobs to provide us with a safe product.

So, when the LGMA approached me last year to join their Board of Directors as a public member, I said yes without hesitation, not only because I have a great amount of respect for the work of this organization, but because I wanted to ensure the interests of consumers are represented in the policies and decisions.   

Much has changed since my daughter’s illness in 2006, with efforts on many fronts to prevent foodborne illness. The work is clearly not done and, as I’ve come to understand, growers of leafy greens are more frustrated than anyone that outbreaks continue to occur. I’m very pleased to be working with the LGMA and I believe they will find solutions to prevent someone from experiencing a foodborne illness. Someone like Rylee.

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“I shouldn’t have lived through it,” Katie said, reflecting on her fight with E. coli poisoning.

On an early summer evening in 2016, Katie Ruffolo, a 36-year old mother of three, was battling diarrhea. She had no idea this signaled the start of an E. coli poisoning that would eventually attack her kidneys and stop her heart three times. Before it was over, doctors would debate whether she faced a partial recovery or death. Her prognosis was bleak.

August 2018, Katie and her husband Keith take a selfie after her full recovery.

The next morning, Katie called her doctor and was told to go to her clinic outside Milwaukee and give a stool sample. The doctor didn’t give her any medication, worried that whatever was causing her diarrhea could be made worse with antibiotics — something doctors later attributed to saving Katie’s life. 

While dealing with this mysterious illness, Katie also was watching her three children while her husband was out of town on a guys’ trip. Luckily, her husband returned by the time Katie’s diarrhea had turned bloody. On June 14, Doctors admitted Katie to West Allis Memorial hospital in Milwaukee.


Because Katie had already submitted a stool sample to her doctor, the doctors in the emergency room were quickly able to figure out what was wrong. On Wednesday, June 15, results came back from the stool sample and E. coli O157 was identified.

Thursday morning, Katie was transferred to the intensive care unit because her kidneys were beginning to fail. “My keratin levels were going up and they knew I was going to need dialysis at some point,” she said.

 Death’s door

On Friday, July 17, Katie was moved to interventional radiology, where they do small procedures, so she could have a port put in for dialysis. But when she lay down, her heart stopped. She coded for 15 minutes. “What they think happened is that the fluids that built up in my body were not flushing through. They told me it basically had drowned my heart and stopped it.”

 The doctors were able to revive Katie, but there were other major concerns, such as brain damage from oxygen deprivation. She was placed on a ventilator for the next two and a half days.  Doctors also started cooling her body and then slowly warming it up. This technique is called therapeutic hypothermia.  It is used to prevent or lessen brain damage. 

Heart stops again

Sunday the 19th, Katie’s blood pressure fell and she coded again, this time for only a few minutes. Miraculously, later in the day, Katie opened her eyes and responded to questions.

Thanks to her parents being able to watch her children, Katie’s husband was able to be at the hospital constantly. He only left when forced to. But then, over the weekend of July 17-19, her parents found bloody stool in Katie’s 2-year-old’s diaper. The  2-year-old and 7-year-old were tested and found to have  E. coli poisoning. Fortunately, neither case was severe. “Thank God they just weren’t sick. They just needed to get tested until it was gone. So obviously we all ate something. And it obviously affected me way more than it affected them,” Katie said.

For the next few weeks, doctors worked to keep Katie alive.

“I remember one of the doctors telling me that they would start the day with 10 or 12 of them around a table talking about what they were going to do, just to keep me alive.”

Katie’s white blood cells and platelets went up and down, so she continued to get blood and platelets transfusions. Doctors had to drain her stomach fluid and were worried that they might have to remove her colon because it showed enlargement. “They put a gallbladder tube in, which I didn’t know was something they could do, which basically stayed in my body for weeks after that. Just to make sure the fluids coming from there were okay.”  

On June 23rd, Katie’s colon started working again, a good sign that her colon was going to be okay. Meanwhile, however, she was on constant dialysis. 

On June 28th, Katie was able to stop continuous dialysis. They started giving her dialysis as needed. Katie had fevers that would come and go, fevers they would have a hard time controlling.

“I don’t really have much memory of this time; I have little blips here and there of things. But I was also on some pretty serious drugs, rightfully so for pain and sedation. And I had some ICU psychosis happening,” Katie said.

On July 3rd, Katie started making her own urine. She became more responsive and she only needed small amounts of dialysis.

Katie’s heart stops a third time

August 2016, Katie is visited at the hospital by her two daughters.

Saturday July 9, Doctors attempted to remove her ventilator and she coded again, this time for a few minutes. “Things had started to look better, but I guess that was kind of the story, you take one step forward and then it would be two steps back. It was just constant back and forth.”Later that day, Katie was the most responsive she had been since entering the hospital. She even got agitated because she wasn’t allowed to have real food. Katie had been on IV nutrition since being put on a ventilator.On July 11th, Katie had her last dialysis. “It wasn’t quite a full month of dialysis but a good three weeks. And my creatinine numbers, the numbers they use to measure your kidney function, were slowly going down.”

Katie remained on and off the ventilator, but she still had difficulty breathing. Doctors finally decided that doing a tracheotomy might help. “They weren’t sure, and they kind of left the decision up to my husband and my parents. Basically, like we can try this and it’s not going to hurt anything. So, they went ahead and did it.”

 ON July 13, they did the tracheotomy. “That was kind of like the magic key. And I needed minimal vent after that. I would go hours and days without it.” During this time, Katie started having physical therapy and occupational therapy. “After you sit in a hospital bed without moving for a month, you can’t move. They had people come in to just get me to sit, or just try and stand, or sit in a chair, or on the side of the bed.”

Coming out of the fog

On July 16, Katie started to feel more like herself. “I pulled out my feeding tube and wouldn’t let them put it back in.” They let Katie try to eat, starting with soft foods like jello and pudding.

When they took Katie completely off sedation, she still had a trachea and couldn’t talk. “I obviously had a lot of questions, but my fine motor wasn’t working the way I wanted it too. I couldn’t use my phone. To type on a phone on that touch screen is really hard. So there was a lot of frustration on my part because I couldn’t communicate what I wanted.” 

On July 21, with her organs stable, Katie was transferred to another hospital in Milwaukee to start rehab. She began therapy for 3-4 hours a day while medical staff monitored her.

 On July 23, Katie’s tracheotomy was removed and after two weeks, on August 6, Katie was released from the hospital.

“Once I started progressing I just started to take off. But also, I had my age working for me, being 36 at the time. I was sort of in the sweet spot. Not too young, not too old. I was a physically fit person before that and physically healthy, no other underlying health concerns, thankfully,” she said. 

Home at last

October 2016, Katie and her family take a family photo after her release from the hospital.

At home Katie received outpatient therapy. “From talking to all the doctors and nurses, I still keep in contact with a lot of them, they said it was a once in a career case. It’s not something they are used to seeing all the time.”

They explained to Katie that in their eyes, she shouldn’t have been able to live through it. They told her it was a miracle that she didn’t have lasting physical limitations or brain damage from coding. Although, Katie explained, it did take a while for her brain to feel like it was back to functioning at the same level.

“The therapist would come and ask what day it was, and I would say, I don’t know. At one point they asked me what time it was, and I looked at the clock and couldn’t make sense of it. They would have me do things, like a puzzle or something and I remember saying, like, I can’t do this, but I know I should be able to do this,” Katie said. 

But eventually it all came back. “At one point the speech therapist dismissed me, because we were working on brainteasers, and she was like, you’re fine. She was like you’re good.” 


Katie has now had several years to reflect on the trauma she went through.

“I guess I never understood how people could die from E. coli. What is that? I think a lot of my family and friends had no idea either. So, I think a lot of people have learned a lot from what happened to me.”

Katie explained that if there was a silver lining to the incident, it was that it educated a lot of people on the importance of food safety. “People tell me they have rethought food and really think about food. I’ve had people tell me they just won’t eat romaine. Because there have been so many outbreaks in the last few years.” 

 Unfortunately for Katie, there’s no way to know for sure what she ate that caused her to get ill. “It is very frustrating in some ways. But not as frustrating as some people think it would be.”

“They ask, ‘What did you eat? Doesn’t it drive you crazy? Did you drive through fast-food at some point? Could it have been baggage lettuce or salad?’ Yeah, I guess. But it’s too many options to know,” she said.

“People want to hope that that can’t happen to them. But the reality is that it can happen to anyone. It doesn’t matter. And food safety is a really important thing.”

Fully recovered, Katie is back to teaching full time with no long-term health issues resulting from her fight with E. coli. Katie is now an advocate for food safety, including a close relationship with the nonprofit public health organization STOP Foodborne Illness.

STOP Foodborne Illness is the only national nonprofit public health organization whose mission is to support and engage people directly impacted by foodborne illness and mobilize them to help prevent illness and death by driving change through advocacy, collaboration and innovation.

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Though beautiful, fruit bouquets have a higher risk of carrying harmful bacteria.

Moms often are in charge of food safety in the home. Make sure to thank them this year by practicing good food safety for them. This is even more important for those of us giving gifts to expecting, elderly, or ailing mothers.

Pre-cut fruit gifts are potentially dangerous

There are some Mother’s Day gifts that come with a higher risk of harmful bacteria — edible arrangements, fruit bouquets, pre-cut fruit baskets, and gourmet drizzled strawberries all come with a higher risk of food poisoning.

The Food and Drug Administration says that fresh-cut produce has an increased risk of bacterial growth and contamination. The inside of produce provides a nutritious medium that allows bacteria to survive. The potential for pathogens to grow is increased by the high moisture and nutrient content of fresh-cut fruits and vegetables. There is also the absence of a lethal process during production to eliminate pathogens. Storage, transport, and retail display are all factors that could impact the safety of pre-cut produce.

 Though pre-cut fruit basket, bouquets and other gifts are beautiful and tasty, it probably isn’t worth the risk for certain moms.

Cooking for mom this Mother’s Day? 

Clean: Wash your hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds throughout the cooking process, especially before handling food and after handling raw meat and poultry. This is one of the simplest and most effective ways to prevent the spread ofbacteria. Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils and countertops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next item. Wash vegetables and fruits, but not the meat. Washing raw meat and poultry can actually help bacteria spread because their juices (and any bacteria those juices might contain) could splash onto your sink and countertops.  

Separate: Always separate raw meat from ready-to-eat foods. By using separate cutting boards, plates, and utensils when preparing and serving food, you can also help you to avoid cross-contamination.  

 Cook: Cooked food is safe only after it’s been cooked to a high enough temperature to kill harmful bacteria. Use a meat thermometer on meat to make sure it reaches a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F.

 Chill: Refrigerate any leftovers within two hours to slow the growth of bacteria. Store your leftovers in shallow containers. Leftovers in the fridge are safe to eat for three or four days and can be frozen during that time for longer storage.

 Muffins, bread or cookies make for a great Mother’s Day treats

As tempting as it may be, eating raw dough could make you very sick. When handling dough, keep these safety tips in mind:

Do not eat any raw cookie dough or any other raw dough product that’s supposed to be cooked or baked.

Raw dough can carry harmful bacteria like salmonella or E.coli.

 Follow package directions for cooking at proper temperatures and for specified times.

Wash hands, work surfaces, and utensils thoroughly after contact with raw dough products.

Keep raw foods separate from other foods while preparing them to prevent any contamination that might be present from spreading.

Follow label directions to chill products promptly after purchase and after using them.

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A woman who lost her baby boy to the South African listeriosis outbreak has said the death left a void in her life.

Innocentia Phaahla was pregnant at the time of her illness. In late November 2017 she was hospitalized and gave birth to a stillborn child before being discharged. She was readmitted to hospital in early December and treated for listeriosis, after which she was discharged again two weeks later.

The 29-year-old told Food Safety News that the memory continues to haunt her emotionally.

“Listeriosis made me lose my baby. I delivered early and the baby was a stillborn. I was 22 to 24 weeks pregnant. They discharged me immediately after the delivery and then they told me they were going to call me for the placenta results. After a day or two they called me and said I must go to hospital immediately for treatment as the results showed I have listeriosis. They explained to me that the treatment is a hospital stay for 14 days,” she said.

The listeriosis outbreak began at the start of 2017 and ended in September 2018 with 1,065 confirmed cases and 218 deaths. It was traced in March 2018 to a ready-to-eat processed meat product called polony made at a plant in Polokwane run by Enterprise Foods, which is owned by Tiger Brands.

Whole-genome sequencing by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) in South Africa confirmed the stillborn child contracted the sequence type 6 (ST6) outbreak strain. This type was found in environmental sampling swabs and ready-to-eat processed meat items from the production facility.

Unexpected loss

Innocentia Phaahla

Phaahla had named the baby boy Matlhogonolo, which means blessings, and said she was thankful for support from her family and fiancée.

“They gave me the support because the loss was a very drastic one, so unexpected. Everything was going well and then suddenly, boom, you know. So it was very disappointing. It is very bad, especially as it was an instant thing. It is not nice losing something special to you,” she said.

“It was an unexpected thing and since I am not working I had no other option than to cremate the body. When they asked me at the hospital what will you do with this body, if you are taking this baby for a burial it means you must bring a hearse, a coffin and the burial itself so I didn’t have any funds then so I decided for the baby to be cremated.”

Phaahla was a regular consumer of Enterprise polony and Russians but refuses to eat them now.

“Normally with my groceries I bought Enterprise polony. Usually I made a sandwich and cut the polony how I wanted it. Since then I am afraid to eat any polony, I don’t eat it now. I am just taking it slowly but it really affected me with eating. I no longer eat polony, so even if they say everything is ok now and back to normal I do not eat it.”

No going back to what caused illness
Enterprise polony has been back on supermarket shelves since late last year but Phaahla said she could not eat it just in case of another problem.

“I’ve read things saying they are clear now and the health agency approved it but I am still afraid because why did it happen the first time? I don’t have that assurance so I decided for myself not to have the polony because how did it come to the shelves the first time then we contracted listeriosis. Now they are assuring us everything is fine so what is the difference now?

“If you know what made you ill I don’t think you would go back to this thing again. Regardless of other people saying it is fine and back on the shelves, what happened the first time when it was on the shelf, they said it was fine and they approved it. So for me it doesn’t make a difference because it happened.”

Authorities also could have done more to prevent or reduce the size of the outbreak, according to Phaahla.

“If the authorities took serious precautions maybe they would realize that there was something wrong. But there had to be an outbreak first so they could get into the investigations and see what was the problem. If they did that first maybe the outbreak would not have happened or not been as large.”

Phaahla lives in Mamelodi, Pretoria, but frequently visited Lephalale in Limpopo to be with her fiancée. She also has a 9-year-old girl.

New arrival helps Innocentia cope
Her pregnancy had been going smoothly but she started feeling sick in her third trimester and, toward the end of November 2017, began experiencing a stiff neck and her health deteriorated rapidly.

In late November, Innocentia developed a fever and experienced contractions. She went to Steve Biko Hospital and doctors concluded she was in labor and the baby had to be delivered urgently.

After only 22 weeks of pregnancy, Innocentia gave birth to a stillborn. The fetus had a rash and a swollen stomach which prompted doctors to run additional tests. After she attended counselling, she was discharged from the hospital on the same day.

Distraught after the trauma, Innocentia went to Limpopo to be with her fiancée. However, she received a call from doctors in early December saying a swab of the placenta had tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes.

They explained that, because of her baby’s diagnosis, she needed to be readmitted to a hospital immediately. Innocentia was afraid to be treated by a different doctor, so travelled back to Steve Biko Hospital where she was also diagnosed with listeriosis. She was hospitalized for 14 days while being treated with antibiotics.

Phaahla now has a 10-month-old baby boy, called Kgothatso, which means my consoler or comforter.

“Now I have a small baby boy so I am happy with my decision of stopping eating the polony. What has helped me cope with the loss is I had to have another baby, I wouldn’t have coped if I hadn’t had another baby. After that tragic thing it was very bad and I had post-natal depression but now I am engaged and looking to the future,” she said.

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on assignment: south africa

Johannesburg — A woman who had a miscarriage due to listeriosis had already started planning for the new arrival before the tragedy and revealed she is constantly reminded of missed milestones.

Mamorake Ntjana found out in June 2017 that she was expecting her second child but she lost the baby at around four months pregnant. The family has a card with footprints of the baby.

The 30-year-old told Food Safety News she had started planning things to do with the newborn baby but in October she suffered a miscarriage while in hospital.

“A week before we went to the doctor when they did a scan everything looked fine and next minute we lost the baby. I had things going in my mind like how and why did this happen?  You start blaming yourself, thinking I was not eating healthy enough, maybe I did something wrong that is the reason my baby died, if I did this or that maybe it would have been different.”

The Listeria outbreak was linked to polony, ready-to-eat processed meat, produced by Tiger Brands in its Enterprise Foods facility in Polokwane, South Africa. There were 1,060 confirmed cases and 216 deaths between January 2017, and July 2018.

Enterprise factory shop

Mamorake said she often ate Enterprise polony and craved such foods during pregnancy.

Polony in supermarkets in February 2019. Picture: Joe Whitworth

“My husband works in Germiston which is not far from an Enterprise factory where they have a shop. Normally when we do groceries we buy polony and viennas for lunchboxes and to eat for breakfast but it is a bit expensive,” she said.

“One time he called me and said he was going with a colleague who is buying an Enterprise hamper with polony, viennas, ham, cheese, and other things and it is this much. I said he should buy it as it will last us the whole month instead of buying one polony and in a couple of weeks having to buy another one. He started buying them around June or July and we became regular customers and recommended it to family and friends.

“It was the first stage of my pregnancy and I was enjoying it, I would eat it for breakfast and sometimes at night also. Luckily he used his card so it is on the statement that he bought it from there. We would not buy it now and we don’t even buy any brand of polony.”

The maintenance planner at PPC Cement said she was supported by her family and husband but never went through counseling.

“I just thought I would be fine, it took a while and I cannot say I have healed because I sometimes go and get that card with the footprints of the baby and look at it just thinking. Also, it comes back a lot, every time I see someone with a kid, I think my child would be this many months now maybe she would be crawling,” she said.

“My mother was there, my mother in law, two sisters in law and three sisters. My sister who lives far away would call every day to check how I am doing and my sister in law and my sister who are around would come to chat.”

Her husband, Teddy Ntjana, who works at Eskom as an electrician, said Tiger Brands must do the right thing.

“They owe that much to the public. I will probably never in my life buy another Enterprise product. They must admit they are at fault and compensate all the affected people accordingly. The saddest part is I actually held the baby in my hand, that image now she is talking about it, comes back and it is painful.”

People died during the investigation

The family, who moved to Midrand in October 2017 from Pretoria West, agreed that South African authorities should have been quicker.

“They only informed people in 2018 that it was Tiger Brands, when they suspected this they should have given caution to the people and while it was investigated more people got infected and lost their loved ones. Immediately after they suspected they should have done something, maybe they shouldn’t have told people but they should have stopped production,” said Mamorake.

“Tiger Brands are producing something that people eat daily, so they mustn’t take it for granted and do it just for money. Maybe they neglected their health procedures or testing but I believe they learned their lesson, and now things are back in supermarkets, they are working more than before as they cannot afford to have another listeriosis outbreak. I believe Tiger Brands acknowledges what they did and will do what is right to prevent the same thing from happening again and be extra careful now.”

Mamorake said symptoms such as tiredness and headaches started in July 2017 but got worse in October.

“On October 25 I was at work, I felt tired but just thought maybe it is the pregnancy. A week before I went to the doctor who said maybe the symptoms are pregnancy-related and told me to drink a lot of water. With my first pregnancy, I didn’t have these symptoms but pregnancies are not the same.

“It was over 30 degrees Celsius outside, I was sitting at my desk and I started feeling very cold. I took my heavy jacket they give us at work and put it on but I still felt cold and it was getting worse, I started shivering and felt like there was ice inside my body. My colleague took me to the clinic at work, the sister checked and said because I was pregnant I should go to the hospital.”

Symptoms before miscarriage

At the hospital, Mamorake continued to feel cold even with another jacket and blanket.

“When I touched myself I was hot and it was hot outside but I was feeling cold. When we got to the hospital we went to the emergency room, they rushed me through and said my temperature was very high at about 40 degrees. They did some blood tests and tried to stabilize my temperature,” she said.

“My husband arrived about one hour after that. I started to feel a bit better as I was not shivering and the doctor came and said they wanted to admit and monitor me overnight. My husband left around 8:30 pm and I slept one hour after that but the cold came back, I called the sisters for blankets but my temperature was still high.

“I was crying for blankets and eventually I had four folded blankets and my gown on. They stabilized me and it got better. What happens is after feeling cold for a long time, you start feeling hot and then sleepy. I slept for two hours and then it happened again, maybe three times that night. In the morning, it happened again.”

The following day she was sitting with her husband when the abdominal pain started.

“I called the sister but the pains started getting worse and increasing. In my head, I didn’t even think of miscarriage. I gave birth to my first daughter so I knew what labor pains were. It only happened after I miscarried that I realized those pains were not normal,” she said.

“The pains started getting too much and they gave me some medication to make me sleep. My husband, who was with me all along, said he was going to quickly buy food. In my sleep, I would feel those pains and then I woke up and they were too much, I started feeling pressure on my abdomen and it felt like I wanted to pee.

“I was sleeping on my side and as I turned I noticed the bed was wet so I tried to stand up and go to the toilet. I was still alone but stood up and went slowly from the bed, and just when I got to stand up I felt something heavy and pressing down inside me blocked there.”

This was the point Mamorake became scared and started to cry.

“I pressed the emergency button for the nurses and when I moved my leg I heard this noise, it was like someone pouring water and I saw blood and things on the floor. The lady next to me turned the curtain and said she’s lost the baby and pressed the emergency button and about 10 nurses came running. One nurse went underneath another bed and said it is a baby girl, she took the baby and covered it with a cloth, when I heard her saying that I started crying saying I lost the baby,” she said.

“The nurses put me on the bed and started cleaning. They asked if I wanted to see the baby and I said no, I was crying, confused, hurt; everything at the same time. After 10 minutes my husband came in, I was just crying it was so sad.”

Following an operation to retrieve the placenta and further blood tests the family was told listeriosis caused the miscarriage.

An upcoming addition to the family

Mamorake said it was the first time they had heard of Listeria.

“After we went on Google and the first thing it said was pregnant women are very sensitive and sometimes they will miscarry. We read everything about listeriosis and that is when we realized it was the cause. We sat in that ward for about an hour, it was quiet and we didn’t say anything to each other,” she said.

“I stayed in the hospital for seven days and they gave me antibiotics to clear the bacteria and took blood every day. After a week they discharged me but it was not totally out of my system so they gave me antibiotics to take for a week at home and soon after I went back to work. I couldn’t stay at home, I was going crazy.”

The family wanted the gap between their children to be about one year six months but their first child is now two and a half years old. However, the couple confirmed they are expecting another child.

Mamorake said she had been hopeful but afraid of falling pregnant due to the miscarriage risk.

“The listeriosis took our baby away. Recently, I found out I am expecting a baby girl due in July so after we found out we are pregnant we were happy because at least now, while we won’t forget and the scar will always be there, it will get better.”

Editor’s note: In early February, Joe Whitworth traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa, for Food Safety News to interview some of the people who were affected by the Listeria outbreak. It’s been eight months since government officials declared the outbreak over, but victims and their families continue to struggle to overcome its impact. In the past weeks, we have published a series of stories to help ensure that the public’s voice is heard. This is the final article. 

To read more of Whitworth’s coverage about the impact of the outbreak, please see:


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

on assignment: south africa

Johannesburg — A woman whose daughter died due to listeriosis weeks after she had a miscarriage has described her as the sunshine in their lives.

Sonette Clack was 32 years old when she died in December 2017. At the start of that month, she was admitted to Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria. A few weeks before she had lost her baby at 12 weeks pregnant due to listeriosis.

Tanja Clack, the mother of Sonette, told Food Safety News that she still goes through stages of anger, crying, and heartache.

“The pain I cannot describe and the actual loss of my daughter, I don’t know how to deal with it, she was the sunshine of our lives, she was always laughing, she was always making jokes, she was such a sweetie-pie and the way she died, I cannot forget the pain she went through,” she said.

“She had a bird, his name is Dingo, for about two years, she taught this bird to talk and each time I go to Pretoria this bird is there and just talking and I can hear the voice in this bird, that is Sonette. She was a very friendly person, she loved to play with the kids. She was very energetic, she would go camping, catch fish, she was a lovely person and loved to draw pictures.

“My mind is always busy with couldn’t I do something for her? I couldn’t because I didn’t even know it was listeriosis but the actual brutality of the way she died, what listeriosis did to her. She got meningitis but that was the hardest time for me ever, the next time when I was at my child she was brain dead, I battled to get over that and when she was brain dead I knew she was not going to talk to me ever again.

“I went to her at every visiting hours and I was even feeling her heartbeat, there was nothing else but her heartbeat but for me to feel the heartbeat she was still alive. I cannot forget the things she went through and the pain, every time we visited her she said ‘Mommy my head, I can’t take this anymore, help me’ and that was very hard for me to take.”

The Listeria outbreak in South Africa during 2017 and 2018 infected more than 1,000 people and 200 deaths were linked to polony, ready-to-eat processed meat, made at a factory in Polokwane by Enterprise Foods, which is owned by Tiger Brands. Polony is similar to baloney sold in the United States.

How goodbye turned into a farewell

Sonette Clack

Tanja, who lives alone in Durban while the rest of the family are in Pretoria, said the health department called her in December to ask about her daughter’s health before she got sick and told her Sonette had listeriosis.

“At the time she was admitted to hospital on December 1, 2017, there was an outbreak of listeriosis but we didn’t know about it because although they did the tests on my daughter they only let us know on December 8,” she said.

“When she was admitted in the hospital they phoned me from Pretoria while I was in Durban and asked me why is my daughter not talking to them and I couldn’t understand the meaning of this. I thought is there something wrong with Sonette? I was still at work waiting for them to tell me what was wrong. That night they said they would let me know and they didn’t.

“The Saturday I was in a state and I couldn’t take it anymore. I got into my car and went there, I only got there Saturday night at 9:30 pm and they didn’t want me to see her and I said I was coming from very far. She was unconscious. Then I left, Sunday we visited again, we were there every visiting hours, and Sunday afternoon she gained consciousness and they did test her for meningitis and then the Monday the test came out and they said because of the listeriosis she had bacterial meningitis.

“One night when we saw her she was actually, I could see the pain, but she was laughing and making a joke, just to say goodbye, never did we know we were actually saying farewell. But the next day she was brain dead. I know one day it will be ok and she is in a better place but whatever you say cannot take away the pain, there are no words to explain and make it better.

“By the time we knew it was listeriosis it was too late. She phoned for the ambulance to take her to hospital but by the time she got there she was unconscious. We thought actually she was going to get better because the Sunday afternoon she gained consciousness, she was talking to us but on December 6 in the morning they said she had a heart attack and when we got to her she was brain dead in ICU.”

Tragedy of miscarriage

In Mid-November, weeks before being admitted to hospital Sonette had lost her baby at 12 weeks pregnant.

“Unfortunately they didn’t do any tests on the baby to see why she had a miscarriage. My daughter cried a lot, they were very excited about this baby. After she lost the baby, Sonette was not the same, she was not making jokes, didn’t laugh and was just hiding in her room. She had flu symptoms and stuff like that but it was not that bad. The family was thinking that she was not feeling well because she lost the baby but in the meantime, it was the listeriosis then attacking her body and weeks after that she died,” said Tanja.

Anke Nievaver with Armand Nievaver

Sonette also had a son aged 11 called Armand Nievaver and a daughter aged 17 called Anke.

Tanja said the whole family ate the same food and it only affected Sonette as she had a weaker immune system due to the early stages of pregnancy.

“They ate polony now and then. I have the receipt for the specific polony they ate at that time. It can take up to 70 days to get the symptoms but I think because she was pregnant it affected her quicker. It was something you put in the fridge and put a slice on your bread when you feel like eating something during the day or on the kids’ sandwiches when they go to school,” she said.

“I am not really a fan of polony, I would eat it now and then, but I wouldn’t buy it for myself. I would buy it if someone was visiting and asks me can I buy polony. I’ve got this thing of when I go to the shop and I want to pick it up I get this should I or shouldn’t I, you think twice and then you think no, this is over now. I do think about it every time, even when I go to buy Vienna when I see the polony it is like a big ridge top.”

The 59-year-old said words cannot make it better but life must go on.

“I want to say (to others affected by the outbreak), I know the pain they are going through and I can emphasize with them, I am so sorry what is happening. May God give them strength to go through this because it is not easy. It is so unexpected, you can’t believe that one minute that person is there and the next minute they are gone. We didn’t know about listeriosis at the time, you don’t know what is going on with your child,” she said.

“If we could ever prevent something like that, we didn’t know at the time what to do, but I hope this is not going to happen ever again. I hope they are going to make sure in whichever places they are making food that there is no bacteria.”

Tiger Brands must pay for mistakes

Tiger Brands must pay for the mistakes made, according to Tanja as the Listeria outbreak strain was traced to a factory owned by Enterprise Foods.

“You can’t put a price tag on a mother or a father or a child but let them pay for the mistakes they have made and hopefully this is not going to happen ever again. After they have paid the people, I hope they’ve learned a lesson through all this heart sore that other people went through and open their eyes to be more cautious of what they are doing. They have to take responsibility for their actions, this is too big, they made money out of that food they were selling,” she said.

“How many people did eat it and are lucky to still be alive. Unfortunately for those who were pregnant or for the ones whose immune systems were weak they contracted this disease and Tiger Brands was still making money.

“Who is telling our stories to Tiger Brands? Do they know our suffering? Do they know what we are going through at the moment? It feels like nobody cares. Why don’t Tiger Brands reach out to the families of people that are not there anymore? Ask us what do you need? Is there something we can help you with? I would love them to do that.”

Tanja, who has three boys and three girls and works for the South African National Blood Services, said her oldest son’s wife is struggling to cope with the children because of the ordeal.

“I am in Durban so I have to leave my job to go to Pretoria to look after the kids that is how bad it is at the moment. For me to look for another job is going to be difficult because I am 59 years old and the children are affected so much, I must make a choice, I cannot bring them here to Durban because they are happy in their schools. They went through the trauma of their mother not being there, I can’t take them out of their schools and take them to a new environment to go through another trauma.”

Tanja has previously spoken to two investigative reporting series on South African television about creating a support network.

“The family is supporting each other but there is no outside support. In the beginning, when I was talking to Carte Blanche or Special Assignment I was asking them can’t they put something out there for people that lost their loved ones. Create a fund or something, just to help the kids that stayed behind and nobody came back to me and I didn’t know how to do this on my own. I tried to do something on Facebook but the feedback I got was very bad so I left it like that in tears,” she said.

“I don’t know where to start but I will, I have to fight this, other people were telling me to leave it; I will not leave this because I will fight for my daughter that is not there, for my grandkids that are still alive. I have too, I can’t just leave this because if I am not going to fight anybody who will fight for us. My daughter can’t fight for her kids as she is not there anymore.”

Editor’s note: In early February, Joe Whitworth traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa, for Food Safety News to interview some of the people who were affected by the Listeria outbreak. It’s been nearly eight months since government officials declared the outbreak over, but victims and their families continue to struggle to overcome its impact. In the coming weeks, we will be publishing a series of stories to help ensure that the public’s voice is heard.

To read more of Whitworth’s coverage about the impact of the outbreak, please see:


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