On January 31 last year, in the middle of the listeriosis outbreak that killed more than 200 people, Tiger Brands barred an official who wanted to take samples of the company’s meat products.
An official from the Capricorn District Municipality visited the Enterprise polony factory in Polokwane, but was turned away because he apparently did not have the correct documentation.
Three months later, the department of health established that the Polokwane polony factory was in fact the main source of the listeriosis epidemic.
Several people had already died.
The World Health Organisation described the outbreak as the biggest in the world. Among the dead were 93 babies.
More than 400 babies less than a month old contracted the disease. Another nine children died and several women had miscarriages as a result of the listeriosis.
In April this year, Tiger Brands announced it had received summons from the Johannesburg High Court for a class action linked to the listeriosis outbreak.
Tiger Brands intends to fight the class action.
In February, the court gave Richard Spoor Attorneys the go-ahead for a class action application representing more than 1 000 people affected by the listeriosis outbreak in 2017 and last year.
Tiger Brands handed in its defence to the court on Thursday last week.
The claimants in the class action argue that Tiger Brands did not take the appropriate action to ensure the safety of its products.
The company denies this and says it always follows industry standards.
The company argues in court papers that it was not aware of the notification in September 2017 – from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) – that there had been an increase in the number of listeriosis cases. The notification did not require the food manufacturer to act.
The company did, however, increase listeriosis tests at the polony factory after the outbreak was deemed an epidemic by government on December 5 2017.
After the Capricorn Municipal official was denied entry into the factory, officials from the department of health and the NICD took samples on February 2.
Tiger Brands took samples a day later and was informed on February 8 that the listeriosis bacteria was present in the water coolers at the factory.
A sample from its Mielie Kip polony tested positive on February 13 and the company’s products were removed from the shelves.
On February 24, Tiger Brands set up a crisis committee to check if its products were the source of the listeriosis epidemic. On March 4, then health minister Aaron Motsoaledi announced that the Polokwane factory was the source of the deadly type 6 (ST6) listeriosis strain, which led to the epidemic.
The company said it only received the notice on March 8 this year that the deadly ST6 strain was found in the Polokwane factory.
The claimants argue that Tiger Brands should be held responsible, under the consumer protection law, for supplying contaminated food which was unsafe and dangerous.
The case will be heard later this year.
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