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Retailers withdraw products

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Motsoaledi urged the public to avoid all processed meat products that are sold as ready-to-eat even from other brands

A supermarket staff member removes all Enterprise processed meat products from its shelves after a customer returned one of them. Picture: Karen Sandison/ANA

Retailers across the country are rushing against the clock to remove ready-to-eat food that may potentially be contaminated with Listeria.

This comes in the wake of the revelation that products from an Enterprise Foods production facility in Polokwane, Limpopo are the source of the current listeriosis outbreak which has resulted in the deaths of 180 people so far.

Even the Department of Basic Education has stepped in to issue urgent alerts to schools and parents over the purchase of foods such as russians, polony, sausages, viennas and other cold meats largely consumed by learners.

“We will collaborate (with the department of health) to ensure that we spread the message highlighting issues regarding listeriosis and what parents can do to safeguard their children against it,” spokesman Elijah Mhlanga said yesterday.

At yesterday’s media briefing alongside the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD), Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said the number of lab-confirmed cases attributed to the foodborne disease now stood at 948 with a fatality rate of 27% cases.

According to Motsoaledi, the said cases were confirmed following government’s efforts in tracing the source of the disease outbreak which is currently the biggest in the history of SA.

He said a team from NICD recently interviewed 109 people as means of establishing what they ate just a month before falling ill.

“Eighty-five percent of the people reported eating ready-to-eat processed meats of which polony was the most common followed by viennas, sausages and other cold meats,” Motsoaledi said.

Listeria is a form of bacteria found in the environment and commonly occurs in soil, water, vegetation and in the faeces of some animals. It can contaminate a variety of food types, including meat and dairy products.

While Listeria cannot be spread from one person to another, pregnant women and infants, as well as people with weakened immune systems are at a higher risk of contracting it.

Symptoms include fever, muscle aches nausea and diarrhoea.

Motsoaledi highlighted that in January, nine children under the age of five years were rushed to Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital due to febrile gastroenteritis.

On the same day, he said, environmental practitioners visited the creche were these children were and took samples of two polony brands which were later traced back to Enterprise and Rainbow Chicken Limited.

Motsoaledi said samples have also been taken from an Enterprise facility in Germiston adding more investigations would be conducted including research of samples linked to a Rainbow Chicken facility in Wolwehoek, near Sasolburg in the Free State.

In a bid to curb the further spread of the disease, the Department of Health said the National Consumer Commission (NCC) has issued manufactures concerned with safety recall notices. Motsoaledi urged the public to avoid all processed meat products that are sold as ready-to-eat even from other brands.

In a statement, Tiger Brands CEO Lawrence Macdowell said: “Food safety remains the highest priority at Tiger Brands where we always place consumers’ health and safety above all else. Therefore, we can confirm that we have, with immediate effect, undertaken a full national recall of the affected Enterprise ready-to-eat meat product range.”

David North, Group Executive, Strategy and Corporate Affairs at Pick * ’ Pay Stores said following Motsoaledi’s announcement the group had undertaken to immediately withdraw all products from the manufacturing sites identified.

Meanwhile, the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa said 12 000 of its members have since opened doors to their facilities for health practitioners to carry out tests where necessary.

“Our concern is always the health of consumers and our members will not compromise on this non-negotiable requirement,” it said.