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Deadly Listeriosis outbreak traced to Enterprise food factory in Polokwane

Polony and products from an Enterprise Foods factory in Polokwane‚ Limpopo‚ are a source of the world’s largest outbreak of listeria, while RTE products from a RCL facility are also under scrutiny. Enterprise is part of Tiger Brands which last year booked R2.2bn in its ‘value-added meat products’ division.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi made the announcement on this afternoon.

More than 16 environmental samples from the Enterprise Polokwane factory tested positive for the Listeriosis monocytogenes strain ST 6.

The results from the factory were confirmed at midnight on Saturday at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases as the strain to blame for the outbreak that killed 27% of patients in South Africa.

“Avoid all processed meat products that are sold as ready to eat‚” said Motsoaledi. He told pregnant women to avoid any processed meat “like the plague”.

“The National Consumer Commission has issued the manufacturer involved [Enterprise] with food recall notices‚” Motsoaledi said.

A second Enterprise facility in Germiston as well as a Rainbow Chicken facility at Wolwehoek in the Free State is also under suspicion. However, further tests are still needed as the sequence type was not known.

This particular strain of listeria monocytogenes that infected so many people is sequence-type 6 and was particularly “virulent”. It was transmitted from food.

It led to at least 180 deaths and infected almost 1‚000 people.

“It is the worst outbreak in global history‚” Professor Lucia Anelich from Anelich Consulting Food Safety Solutions said earlier.

Listeriosis affects the elderly‚ those with compromised immune systems such as people with Aids and diabetics, and newborn babies.

The disease is particularly scary for pregnant woman who may have no symptoms when being infected with the bacteria but can pass it on to their babies.

It is believed the number of stillbirths may have increased as a result of pregnant women infected with it‚ said Juno Thomas‚ head of enteric diseases at the NICD.

One of the reasons it is so hard to find is because, even in solid food‚ a scientist may sample the infected food and not find it. For example‚ a slice of polony could be tested and have none of the micro-organism, but a different slice could have it.

Anelich said: “A micro-organism in a solid food is not homogenously distributed throughout food. A statistical sampling technique has to be used to ensure it is detected.”

It is also difficult to find in factories. Anelich said it could hide away in niches in the factory environment in cracks or bad joints and pipes.

Even if you sanitised a factory‚ you could miss the bugs hiding in cracks‚ she said.

Listeria bacteria can sense when it is near other bacteria and secrete a sugary goo. This substance is called a biofilm and can allow the bacteria to live on inanimate surfaces.

The biofilm protects the bacteria from cleaning agents. “A detergent could get superficial cells but leave behind some bacteria.”

Motsoaledi said that people at risk such as pregnant women‚ those with HIV and weakened immune system had to avoid all ready-to-eat products such as viennas‚ polony and frankfurters. These could be cross-contaminated in shops as they are often stored next to polony.

Polony made by Rainbow Chicken has also been recalled.

Tiger Brands’ announcement

Tiger Brands, on behalf of its division Enterprise Foods, has committed to recalling products that are identified with listeriosis outbreak, but are conducting its own tests as well. 

“As a company that prioritises the health and safety of consumers above all else, we are committed to ensuring that all Enterprise products, as identified, will be recalled as part of the directive received. We are working very closely with the officials at present to conduct the process and will provide updates to the public on this matter,” Tiger Brands spokesperson Nevashnee Naicker said in a statement. 

“The company proactively amplified its testing for listeria and can confirm that we had found a low detection of a strain of listeria in some products on 14 February but the presence of the ST6 strain [the outbreak strain] has not been confirmed by our tests.

“The company has furthermore sent its samples to an external laboratory to test for the strain itself and should receive the results tomorrow [Monday].” 

Naicker said the company has been working with the department of health and the NICD on its own findings.

“We await confirmation of the strain testing to confirm the strain. In the meantime, we reaffirm our commitment to recall the identified Enterprise products as soon as possible.”  

Source: ewn.co.za; News24.com

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