On Sunday 4 March 2018 the Minister of Health, Aaron Motsoaledi announced the source of the national listeriosis outbreak during a media briefing at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD). In the Department of Health’s ongoing attempt to determine the source of the biggest listeria outbreak in the world, they discovered that 85% of patients ate ready to eat processed meat products such as polony, Vienna sausages and other cold meats. This was determined through an interview with patients to determine what they had eaten in the month prior to falling ill.

Affected food factories  

According to minister Motsoaledi, samples of two unrelated polony brands manufactured by Enterprise and Rainbow Chicken LTD, respectively, that tested positive for sequence type six (ST6) of listeria were confirmed in January. The samples were collected from a crèche in Soweto after nine children from the crèche were diagnosed with listeria early in January 2018. The source of the polony was traced back to the Enterprise Food production site in Polokwane, Limpopo where listeriosis was isolated from over 30% of environmental samples. To conclude the investigation, whole genome sequencing analyses were done at the NICD and 16% of the environmental samples collected at the site were tested positive for the ST6 bacteria. These results were available by midnight on 3 March 2018.

According to these tests it can be confirmed that the source of the nationwide outbreak is the Enterprise Foods (Tiger Brands) factory in Polokwane. Samples from an Enterprise Foods factory in Germiston in Gauteng has also tested positive for listeria, but the sequence type has not yet been confirmed. Further investigations are ongoing at Rainbow Chicken LTD (RCL Foods), Wolvehoek production facility in Sasolburg, Free State where the sequence type will be confirmed.

Recall and other actions

Food safety recall notices were issued by the National Consumer Commission (NCC) to manufacturers on 4 March for Enterprise Foods and Rainbow Chicken. Minister Motsoaledi said that the recall will affect manufacturers and entire production networks, locally and internationally.  He also said that exports by Enterprise Foods and Rainbow Chicken LTD have been temporarily suspended by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery.

Consequently, retailers such as Pick n Pay and Woolworths have also recalled certain processed meats that share manufacturing facilities with Enterprise Foods or Rainbow Chicken. Consumers have been advised by the minister to avoid any uncooked processed meats that are sold as ready to eat. Although the ST6 bacteria has only been confirmed on polony, it could have cross contaminated other products such as Vienna sausages, Frankfurters, Russians, ham and salami.

This is due to the fact that the outer casing of such foods is often the same and, if contaminated, can spread further to production, distribution or retail level. All such products, even from companies who have not been recalled, should be avoided, especially by children, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems. –Ursula Human, AgriOrbit

Watch the full announcement by Minister Motsoaledi here:

For a brief overview of the listeria outbreak watch this SABC interview:

Click here to read an original in-depth article about Listeria and food safety in South Africa.