LIsteriosis South Africa

In 2018 a listeriosis outbreak hit South Africa. It was the worst food-related outbreak ever in this country, and it was the worst Listeriosis outbreak in the world. The cause of the outbreak was linked to Enterprise, a well-known South African brand owned by Tiger Brands.

In an effort to help consumers and the public to understand what happened and also to attempt to repair the damage to consumer trust in the brand, Enterprise invited myself and a handful of other bloggers to a candid round table discussion. This is the start of a series of discussions planned that Enterprise is spearheading. It is aimed at understanding what happened and the way forward.

What is Listeriosis and how do you get it?

Listeria is a continuous pathogen, a foodborne bacteria which causes listeriosis. It is most commonly found in contaminated food. In this case it was the processed meats produced by Enterprise.

As with most bacteria, Listeria does have a more devastating effect on babies, young children, pregnant woman and those with a weakened immune system.

Good hygiene and continuous education are to the benefit of everyone.

Fast Fact: Did you know that although the Listeriosis outbreak in South Africa was the worst ever recorded, in 2018 there was an outbreak in Australia which was linked to cantaloupes? 

How Did Enterprise React to the Listeriosis Outbreak?

When the news broke of the Listeriosis outbreak in South Africa in 2018, Enterprise shut all their sites down. The outbreak was linked to the Polokwane Branch. However, as a precautionary measure all Enterprise products were removed from shelves across the country and all stock was then incinerated.

The stock that was destroyed had an estimated value of around R377-million.

Enterprise also faced legal claims from consumers who were made ill by the contaminated food to the tune of around R435-million.

Investing In Science and Education

The biggest thing to have come from this listeriosis outbreak, is the Centre for Food Safety. Enterprise as part of Tiger Brands has teamed up with the the Stellenbosch Food Science Department. Together they have created the Food Safety Institute to assist the Department of Health. This is an independent body that will assist the Government in the research of food safety, bacteria and on how to improve the standards within the food industry.

They are a consulting body to keep the South African academia, the government and the industry up to speed with the latest developments in protecting and managing the entire food system in South Africa.

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What was the impact on staff and the company?

Enterprise closed their sites between March and October. Closure of the sites had major repercussions, not just on the company itself but on the staff too.

Most people know that the families of those affected filed a mass civil suit against Enterprise. What most people don’t consider is the impact that the listeriosis outbreak and subsequent manufacturing closures had on the staff working at Enterprise factories.

What about the Enterprise employees?

Enterprise is the second biggest employer in Polokwane. Unfortunately, the staff were hugely affected by the closures. Many were ostracised by their communities and in an effort to support their staff, Enterprise provided counselling to affected employees. As you can imagine, the stress levels of the staff were extremely high as most are the breadwinners who support their families.

I was pleased to learn that whilst there was downtime following the closures, no jobs were lost as a result and all salaries were paid in full. Enterprise re-directed staff efforts and 52 thousand hours were spent educating staff and on a deep-clean of all facilities.

Our Candid Conversation with Enterprise

Here are some of the key points that I took away from our discussion with Enterprise.

What is actually in sausage and polony?

Chicken, soy, pork, spices and flavor – water, pork rind, chicken skin to bind it and helps with the taste. 

So there are no funny body parts!

I can’t tell you how relieved I was when I heard this. I went straight home after this event and made myself an old school fried polony sandwich. Kale can take a hike!

Staff Training:

Enterprise staff are highly trained and this includes training at the retail level with the merchandising team as well.

Change on the ground:

Improvements have been made to the staff’s Personal Protective Equipment and it is now colour coordinated for the different sections.

Polony caps have been introduced by Enterprise too and they are ingenious. Honestly, the lady who works for me wants to gift some to family and friends. It’s the little things that contribute to making a big difference.

Some other random facts:

  • Enterprise sources its pork from three different farms. They were also affected by the listeriosis outbreak as a knock-on-effect.
  • In South Africa, there is an organisation called Pork 360. Their role is to make sure that pork is sourced and handled correctly.
  • A full traceability batch code has been implemented and samples are kept until the shelf life of the products.
  • And, if this isn’t a fantastic job, I don’t know what is: there is an actual Taste Panel! That’s correct there is a taste panel.

Do we have a consumer responsibility?

Whilst Enterprise does all it can to ensure they are living up to the expected standard of food safety, we as consumers should also feel free to be proactive when it comes to notifying a store should we see any faults or discrepancy in the way any food is handled.

If there is a backlash of being sick from an Enterprise product, it is important to keep slips of where you bought the product. This can help to trace where the contaminated food came from.

This mindset should apply to all food products, it’s not specific to Enterprise, or polony.

What can you do to assist your family going forward?

Meat should always be stored below 5 degrees Celsius. It is for this reason that it is recommend that consumers should shop for their meat last when they are doing their grocery shopping. This will help to reduce the amount of time that the meat is not in a refrigerated environment.

Unfortunately load shedding in South Africa is a reality. Whilst it is up to the store to monitor the stock whilst on the shelves, as a consumer you should alert the retailer if you see a breach in temperature. If load shedding affects your refrigeration at home, don’t take any risks with regards to meat products.

This is a great reference sheet to assist you with Food Safety at home

My Honest Opinion

Whilst the Listeriosis outbreak in South Africa was a disaster, after our meeting with Enterprise I can see that they have faced it head-on. I personally do believe that how we come back from terrible events is much more a reflection of our morals and ethos.

Whilst no one would have wished such a horrible disaster to happen, it has proved to be a catalyst to allow us as a country to benefit from advances in the food safety and education.  I will definitely be following this conversation going forward.

Plate with a delicious breakfast on the table

This post was edited by Blue Media Edit.

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