BAD MEAT MARKET Irate customers queue to return meat from the Enterprise Factory store in Germiston.
Don’t throw it away – take it back, or burn it.
This is the message from food experts to consumers who are concerned about listeriosis contaminated processed meats in their homes.
The recall of a food type is never a simple exercise, Stellenbosch University food microbiologist Pieter Gouws told Times Select on Monday after the source of the outbreak was announced this weekend.
The risk is not entirely removed if contaminated food is merely thrown into a wastebin. This could potentially result in the further spreading of the disease which to date has claimed the lives of 180 people and infected 948.
Gouws said recalls would prove to be one of the biggest challenges in dealing with the outbreak.
He said a number of the recall problems would come down to those who sold the product on, especially when it came to distributors outside of the country.
The products have been sold as far afield as Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Mozambique, Zambia, Namibia, Malawi and Botswana have all recalled South African processed meat products since the source of the outbreak was announced on Sunday.
Public transport is expensive and people often do not keep their till slips which makes it difficult to return the products to the shops where they were bought.
Microbiologist Pieter Gouws
Gouws said what must be avoided at all costs was simply throwing the contaminated products into a dustbin.
“There is a risk of this happening especially here in South Africa, where public transport is expensive and people often do not keep their till slips, which makes it difficult to return the products to the shops where they were bought.
“This risks spreading the disease, especially in terms of people who live off waste-picking and in areas where there are open sewerage systems.
“While listeriosis will not survive in normal tap water, when it comes to rivers and other forms of water used for irrigation it’s a different story, which risks spreading the disease.”
Food safety consultant Dr Lucia Anelich said consumers who dispose of the product should preferably not throw it in their dustbins.
“This is your main danger because if those who would consume it and have weakened immune systems, they could potentially contract listeriosis …
“The best thing is to return it to the retailer because they will have methods to deal with the disposal.”
Consumers can also burn the food they fear is contaminated.
The best thing is to return it to the retailer because they will have methods to deal with the disposal.
Health Minister Aron Motsoledi announced on Sunday that the listeria ground zero was an Enterprise Foods factory in Polokwane, Limpopo. Enterprise’s other affected factory is situated in Germiston.
The minister said Rainbow Chicken Ltd foods would also be recalled as a precautionary measure after an unidentified listeriosis strain was found in one of their production factories in Sasolburg.
The National Consumer Commission ordered Enterprise Foods to recall three products‚ although the company has decided to have a voluntary recall of all ready-to-eat products produced at the affected factories.
Woolworths, in a statement, also announced it would join the recall as some of its smoked meats products had Enterprise ingredients and some of its products are packaged at the Polokwane factory.
Global food safety measures
Anger around the outbreak is now being directed towards the food industry. Questions are being raised as to why South African food manufacturers are not compelled to comply to a globally recognised food safety process, known as HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points), which producers in Europe and the US are compelled to follow.
In South Africa it is voluntary to follow.
Food safety consultant Anelich said the food industry was nearly entirely self-regulated.
She said under HACCP standards only peanut sorting and the peanut butter manufacturing industry is forced to follow HACCP.
“There is no regulation about listeria [in South Africa] and what must be tested in food.”
She said in South Africa, the law did not specify how testing for listeria bacteria in high risk food, such as processed meat and soft cheeses, should be done.
On Monday, Lawrence MacDougall, chief executive officer of Tiger Brands – the parent company of Enterprise Foods – said the company was taking the situation “very, very seriously” and would bear the costs of the recall.
Data from the National Institute of Communicable Diseases, shows infant babies were the hardest hit by listeriosis outbreaks, with 41% all cases affecting infants younger than 28 days.
The death toll could also be higher as the outcome in only 70% of patients cases is known.
Listeriosis can only be contracted if you have a weakened immune system, are elderly or are pregnant, with those who are healthy unlikely to contract the disease.