According to Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, South Africa no longer has a listeria outbreak, and all ready-to-eat processed meat products are safe for consumption.
Although the source was never identified, the health department is adamant that the outbreak is over.
The food-borne bacteria claimed the lives of more than 200 people, including 80 babies, and was the largest outbreak the country has ever witnessed.
However, although no new cases had been reported in the last three months, the minister cautioned the public to take precautions.
Here’s how South Africa managed to wrest control back from the deadly bacteria.
1. Lady Luck was on our side.
Enterprise Foods was first implicated in the listeriosis outbreak when the department of health traced the initial outbreak back to its factories in Polokwane and Germiston.
Both factories stopped production.
“You remember when the outbreak started; scientists were saying we might not even find the source. They said the outbreak might burn itself out even before finding out where it came from. Some said it was like looking for a needle in a haystack. And we’re lucky to identify where it came from, Enterprise Technology. Even that was lucky.,” Motsoaledi said.
But experts had still not pinpointed where the outbreak originated.
“But now to find out how it came from there ... that’s where the puzzle is,” Motsoaledi said.
2. Money helped. In order to deal with the outbreak, the department of health contributed R12 million towards the investigation and controlling of the outbreak, and another R1.2 million was provided by the World Health Organisation.
3. There was a quick response. Together with the National Institute of Communicable Diseases, a response plan was drawn up to “control and end the outbreak, and strengthen systems to prevent further listeriosis outbreaks”.
4. New laws and training were implemented. Food safety laws had since been updated and 900 health inspectors had undergone retraining to take samples from factories. More than 5800 tonnes of processed foods had been destroyed, Motsoaledi said.
5. Tiger brands was on board. Nevashnee Naicker, corporate communications director at Tiger Brands, the holding company of Enterprise Foods, told City Press that the company was committed to playing a leading role in driving change in the food safety system in South Africa.
“Tiger Brands has worked extremely closely with national and international listeria experts to get to the bottom of the listeria detection at our Polokwane facility, and have implemented suggestions for improvements at our facilities. We have also been active in improving consumer awareness on food safety and food handling,” Naicker said.
Naicker added that Tiger Brands was at the “advanced” stage of reopening their facilities.
“We have been working very closely with the local municipalities who are responsible for issuing the relevant operating licences and we hope to make an announcement in due course regarding the resumption of certain production activities. We have also been liaising closely with the representatives from the national department of health to ensure alignment and collaboration with all stakeholders as we prepare for reopening,” she said.