KIMBERLEY – Northern Cape MEC for Health Fufe Makatong (Inset) has committed her department to bolstering listeriosis awareness in an effort to contain its spread. The province has three deaths – two neonates that were three days old and a 70-year old male patient – from a confirmed six cases. MEC Makatong said her department has conducted outreach visits in the province’s five districts between January and February this year, targeting communities with a special focus on pregnant women. “Although our country’s food safety monitoring function has been taken away from the department of health and is performed entirely by municipalities, I have tasked the department to continue working closely with municipalities in monitoring and ensuring that all affected products are removed from the shelves of supermarkets.” South Africa’s Minister of Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi put the listeriosis death toll at 180 deaths, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) citing it as the world’s worst outbreak, according to Reuters.
The Department of Health listed listeriosis is a treatable and preventable disease caused by the bacterium listeria monocytogenes and is widely distributed in nature and can be found in soil, water and vegetation. Also stating that animal products and fresh produce such as fruits and vegetables can be contaminated from these sources. Resulting from an unusual increase of a total 557 traced cases reported between 1 January 2017 to 29 November, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi announced the outbreak of this foodborne disease in early December last year. By then already, food processing plants were suspect. In giving an update on Sunday 04 March, Dr Motsoaledi confirmed the outbreak source as being from household favourite ready-to-eat processed meat products such as polony, viennas, sausages and other ‘cold meats.’ “We advise members of the public to avoid all processed meat products that are sold as ready-toeat. While we know that polony is definitely implicated, there is a risk of cross-contamination of other ready-to-eat processed meat products, either at production, distribution or retail,” warned the Minister. He cited the Enterprise food-production facility in Polokwane as “confirmed to be the source of the latest outbreak.” And this; amid a case of nine Soweto children under the ages of five years having been presented to Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital with a foodborne disease being suspected, including listeriosis on Friday 12 January. According to Minister Motsoaledi tests on food ingested at the crèche proved positive. Based on a broad health risk that had emerged, the National Consumer Commission (NCC) issued manufacturers with safety recall notices with the goods being declared unsafe. The Northern Cape Consumer Protection Authority’s senior legal officer Sipho Gxotha told SolomonStar that they ready to unfold inspections and investigations. “We have written a letter to the NCC seeking permission to act and we are awaiting their response.” The office received a single complained based on a major city retailer refusing to refund a client. It also cited the repackaging and re-branding of ready-to-eat processed meat by major chain stores as an unsettling aspect of the listeriosis outbreak.
Listeriosis Sparks Sphatlo Seller’s Unease
From the bigger picture of having five neighbouring nations banning processed meat imports from South Africa to national producers such as Tiger Brands with its Enterprise products and to the local sphatlo sellers; the listeriosis outbreak has left the country in an economic and health shock. The national food debate has swiftly shifted from food security to food safety with manufacturers suffering share capital losses. Unease has gripped fast food street vendor and seller of the township and student inexpensive food favourite known as sphatlho; Mr Kagiso Mosikare (Right) of Sphatlhos next to the Moremogolo Campus of the Northern Cape Urban TVET College. He told SolomonStar that his clients have received the news around the outbreak and are avoiding russian, opting for a topping of patty beef burger in their specialties known as Hulana, CBD, Cheese Boy, Real Deal and S’khotane. “Even though I am trying to convince my clients that the russian in their sphatlho is not manufactured by the mentioned companies they still don’t want it,” lamented the young township entrepreneur.
A loaf of white bread when cut into four quarters, allows for the base or crust of each quarter to make a sphatlho with the inner soft sheltering the toppings, however, never without the fried chips which the ready-toeat processed meat items rely upon to make it sumptuous. The outbreak has irked plumbing student at the college, Ms Mellany Sereo. “With sphatlho being my favourite lunchtime meal, I now have to resort to eating snacks which cost me more,” said a disturbed looking Ms Sereo. At Econo Foods at Beanconsfields in Kimberley where ready-to-eat processed meat such as russians and viennas are sold in hampers of R228 and resold to households at R350 by re-sellers, confirmation was given that the outlet has never indulged in the selling of the products of the fingered manufacturers. “Since the outbreak we have had over 200 calls from the public, enquiring about our products and we have swiftly given the safety guarantee and sought certificates from our suppliers which we are putting on display as you can see,” said the store’s manager Mr Willie Olivier. The owner of the franchise Rhodesdene Pick n Pay store, Mr Jan Bezuidenhout, which has adopted the township sphatlho did not respond to our enquiry in short-message-service (SMS). However, the removal of the ready-to-eat processed meat from the stores refrigerators was undertaken as witnessed. Similarly, Galeshewe’s Pick n Pay and Monument Spar had followed suit with supermarkets under the Shoprite Group guaranteeing full refunds. Based on a spot-check on the 24- hour convenient-stores linked to petrol stations, SolomonStar noted that those inspected only sold Escort products. At tuck-shops of foreign nationals, cheaper versions of french polony were found, sold at one rand a slice.