By Colleta Dewa
Johannesburg - The World Health Organization (WHO) says retailers and consumers should be cautious not to cause superfluous panic by generalising the recent recalling of some products linked to the listeriosis disease outbreak in South Africa.
Speaking to The Southern Times, WHO country representative in South Africa, Dr Rufaro Chatora, said although it is urgent for South Africa and all countries that trade with her to recall the affected products, the recall must not be indiscriminate.
"The response by both SA and neighbouring countries should be a product recall. And the recall should be only the implicated ready-to-eat meat products, which are polony and Vienna sausages from the specific food production plants. Product recall must be evidence-based and not generalised," he said.
The comment by the WHO follows reports that some Southern African Development Community countries had already banned all products from South Africa -- whether they are linked to the disease or not.
Dr Chatora applauded the investigating team for their ability to detect the source of the disease, saying it could have prolonged since there are no surveillance systems in the country.
“Investigating listeriosis outbreaks is complex business even in developed countries.
“The USA and France are leading the way in terms of the surveillance systems required for monitoring and subsequently investigating listeriosis outbreaks. Taking this into consideration and that the investigation gathered pace during last quarter of 2017, the experts did well to pinpoint the source as has happened," he said.
The team of experts, who were tasked to investigate the source of the disease at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), confessed that it was an uphill task.
Head of the NICD's Centre for Enteric Diseases, Dr Juno Thomas, said his team is gratified for accomplishing the mission with results.
"At many stages we were despairing, I’m really glad, and proud. Our laboratory staff worked extra hard. People gave up their December leave to come in,” said Dr Thomas.
According to the team of experts, they came to closure after nine children below the age of five attending the same crèche in Soweto fell sick and were taken to Chris Hani-Baragwanath Hospital.
The paediatrician, who attended to the children concluded that the cause of the sickness was a food-borne disease, possibly listeriosis.
When experts traced the food that the children had been taking, it was then discovered that samples from two polony brands manufactured by Enterprise and Rainbow Chicken Limited were the source of the listeriosis bacteria. This brought finality after months of investigations by the team.
Soon after the team concluded their investigation, South Africa's Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, made a public announcement that an Enterprise Foods production facility in Polokwane was the source of the ST6 outbreak strain.
The minister also stated that samples of several processed meat products at an Enterprise facility located in Germiston contained listeria monocytogenes though the sequence type is not yet known.
As a result, the minister ordered an immediate recall of all products linked to the organisations.
Panic gripped both retailers and consumers in South Africa and most Southern African countries who rushed to do away with the products.
Meanwhile, the Black First Land First movement has laid murder charges against Tiger Brands, Enterprise Foods, Remgo and Rainbow Chicken. In a statement sent to The Southern Times by the BLF deputy president Zanele Lwana, the movement said it had opened a case of murder and attempted murder at Hillbrow police station.
“The case of murder relates to all those who have been killed while the case of attempted murder relates to all those who have been infected but are survivors of the dreaded listeriosis disease,” BLF said.
BLF president Andile Mngxitama says those responsible should be tried in court.
“The perpetrators of these heinous crimes against the people must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law and appropriately sentenced. They cannot be allowed to act with impunity.”
The implicated company, Tiger Brands is, however, not new to controversy. In 2014, it recalled cooking sauces and rice products after traces of potentially carcinogenic and toxic ingredients were found in them.
Economic analyst Mpho Mathe said the company needs to be investigated thoroughly.
“This is not their first scandal. Eyebrows are being raised now. Remember in 2007 they were involved in the bread price-fixing scandal as well as the Kenya accounting fraud claims. They really have to work harder to save their name. It doesn’t take time for consumers to decide to boycott their products.”
“This recent listeriosis disaster will slide them into an obvious loss. They will take time to recover I am sure,” said Mathe.
Tiger Brands has urged its customers to remain calm and acknowledged that the issue is very sensitive and delicate.
“We are dealing with an extremely serious issue that pertains to people’s personal health and well-being. We want to assure all South Africans that we are dealing with this matter with the utmost urgency," the company said.
The food giant has also assured the nation that they will follow the due procedures to ensure that the contaminated food is disposed of correctly.
“The products that have been returned are being quarantined by our distribution partners, who will be following strict guidelines to ensure the products are safely destroyed,” said Tiger Brands spokesperson Nevashnee Naicker.