JOHANNESBURG — South African supermarkets began a mass recall on Sunday of meat products made at a facility that health officials say was the source of a listeriosis outbreak that has killed 180 since January 2017.
Listeriosis is caused by a bacteria found in soil, water, vegetation and animal faeces, and can contaminate food, especially fresh meat, dairy and seafood. It is prevented by basic hygiene and washing food.
The country’s second largest supermarket chain, Pick n Pay, said it had "acted immediately to withdraw all products from the manufacturing sites identified by the Department of Health".
"All fridges and food preparation areas in our stores will now be re-cleaned to prevent any cross-contamination. Recalled meat is being isolated and will be safely destroyed," Pick n Pay, which has 1,420 stores in South Africa, said in a statement. It warned that "a very broad range of retailers" could be affected.
Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi earlier revealed that the current outbreak began at a facility run by Enterprise foods in Polokwane, the capital of northeastern Limpopo province. He warned that two other sites could also be affected.
Products including locally popular polony sausages, also known as baloney, made at the Enterprise plant would be subject to immediate safety recalls, he added.
Enterprise said in a statement that it "prioritises the health and safety of consumers above all else".
"We are committed to ensuring that all Enterprise products, as identified, will be recalled as part of the directive received," it said.
The National Consumer Commission will now work with manufacturers to ensure no affected products are sold, Motsoaledi said.
"The safety recall will affect the manufacturers’ entire distribution networks, both domestic and international," he added.
"We advise members of the public to avoid all processed meat products that are sold as ready-to-eat."
The National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) said that 948 cases of listeriosis had been confirmed since January 1, 2017, leading to 180 deaths.
The death toll stood at 172 as recently as February 22.
The United Nations has previously said South Africa’s listeriosis outbreak is believed to be the largest-ever worldwide.
The disease mainly affects children and has a three-week incubation period , making it difficult to track.
Contamination in humans can result in flu-like illness, infection of the bloodstream and, in severe cases, infection of the brain which can prove fatal.
People with compromised immune systems, like some of those living with AIDS and pregnant women, are at a heightened risk, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). — AFP