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#Listeriosis The real impact

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Fury at fact that 78 of the dead are infants

Some major retailers have put up the signs informing customers that they had removed the products that may be linked to the listeriosis outbreak. Picture: Cindy Waxa/African News Agency (ANA)

AS ANGER swelled over the handling of the listeriosis outbreak, it emerged that a shocking 78 of the 180 deaths from the killer disease were infants.

Dr Juno Thomas, of the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD), yesterday revealed that the high number of fatalities was of newborns who were only 28 days old and below.

“We are concerned that the information regarding the outbreak and the measures to be taken won’t reach everyone, particularly in peri-urban and rural areas. Yes, we expect more cases,” she said.

Tiger Brands further drew the ire of the public when it distanced itself from the deaths linked to the food-borne disease.

The giant food brand company yesterday said it had complied with the Department of Health and the NICD over investigations relating to the source of the outbreak which has since been linked to a production facility of one of its brands, Enterprise Foods in Polokwane, Limpopo.

Chief executive Lawrence MacDougall said that early last month the department and NICD had visited their facilities and obtained more than 400 samples from various products for testing.

A week later, he said, low levels of listeria were detected in their products but the company took immediate precautionary measures, including heightened testing of food samples to prevent any contamination. They were surprised to hear pronouncements by Minister Aaron Motsoaledi on Sunday on recalls.

“Prior to (Motsoaledi’s) press briefing, we received a notice to recall three of our products. As a consumer conscious organisation we are being extra vigilant and therefore immediate action was taken,” MacDougall said.

The company has also suspended all operations at its Polokwane and Germiston facilities and supplies to retailers. Pressed by the media over whether Tiger Brands would assume responsibility for the outbreak and ultimately the deaths, MacDougall said while the loss of any life was devastating for the organisation, he couldn’t confirm whether the fatalities were linked to their products.

Tiger Brand shares plummeted yesterday on the stock market.

It is still unclear what sanctions will be imposed against it and Rainbow Chicken but Black First Land First, which laid murder charges against the corporations with Hillbrow police, said heads had to roll.

Political parties also weighed in on the debacle. The EFF said Enterprise Food and Rainbow Chicken should take blame for the outbreak. “They must be held accountable for spreading disease and killing people,” said Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, its spokesperson.

The PAC said listeriosis was a result of failure by the state to regulate food processing in the country. There were also concerns that contaminated food could find its way to dump sites frequented by the destitute.

Popo Maja, national health spokesperson, told Independent Media that the government had assurance from major stores that this wouldn’t happen.

Angry consumers yesterday descended on Enterprise Foods’ factory shop in Germiston to return some products it manufactures.

They arrived in droves to hand back food including French polonies, viennas, bacon and russians.

All arrived with food stuff they had bought in bulk recently, and were refunded without even producing receipts. The popular factory shop sells hampers directly to the public.

The health minister named Enterprise’s production facility in Polokwane as the main source of listeriosis. He also fingered Rainbow Chicken production in Sasolburg.

Retailers have recalled products from these producers. Three countries, Botswana, Zambia and Mozambique, followed suit and recalled processed meat products from South Africa.

Tony Nwanze, a father of five, bought a R360 hamper at Enterprise Germiston factory shop on Saturday morning. “I’m now scared for my kids, because they consumed it on Saturday,” he said. “The issue is not about getting a refund. It’s about our safety, my kids’ health. It’s scary.”

Nwanze said Enterprise must reveal its plan to assist people who may become infected from the virus. “You don’t know you are buying death in a package.

“What happens to people’s health? How will they attend to people? The department must help us more.”

Matsie Tshabalala also had more questions than answers after getting her refund. “My question is what’s going to happen (going forward).

“What if this (listeriosis) affects us? We don’t know when do symptoms start showing, is it immediately or afterwards?”

Zolani Manda enjoyed some russians with his family just yesterday morning. He heard from his friend that they had been recalled.

“We had just eaten when he said ‘hey, people are dying because of that food’. These people (Enterprise) have killed us. They must take us to the doctor. I have flu now. Maybe it’s this thing,” said Manda.

Gauteng is the worst affected province in the 180 known deaths.

Breaking down the figures Thomas said fatalities also included seven children aged 12 months to 14 years; 23 people between the ages of 60 and 64; 26 people above 65; and, 44 people between 15 and 49 years, largely made up of pregnant women and those with a weakened immune system.

To allay fears, Thomas said not every child or adult who presents with an intestinal infection or listeria-like symptoms such as diarrhoea, vomiting and muscle aches, has listeriosis but that those who are concerned, particularly people with weakened immune systems and chronic diseases and have consumed contaminated food, should get examined.

Listeria, a bacteria, cannot be spread from one person to another through contact. It contaminates a variety of food groups including meat and dairy products, as well as fresh produce.