Don't panic if you have eaten Enterprise polony

Enterprise polony identified as source of listeria outbreak.
Enterprise polony identified as source of listeria outbreak.
Image: 123RF/Andrey Starostin

One factory has been blamed as the source of the world’s largest outbreak of listeriosis - the Enterprise polony factory in Polokwane‚ Limpopo.

This emerged at a media conference on Sunday at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in Johannesburg.

The world’s largest outbreak of listeriosis has occurred in South Africa with 180 confirmed deaths and just under 1‚000 laboratory confirmed cases.

Environmental Health Practitioners‚ members of the Department of Health and World Health Organisation technical advisors visited the Enterprise factory and took samples from it.

16 samples tested positive for the listeria monocytogenes strain ST6 that caused the outbreak. The DNA results of the bacteria were confirmed late on Saturday night by the NICD.

“The environmental swabs indicated massive listeria contamination‚” said Rufaro Chatora World Health Organisation country representative.

Samples from two other factories have tested positive for the listeria bacteria.

The Rainbow Chicken Limited factory in Wolweburg in Sasolburg also had listeria in its factory‚ but it is not the same source of the outbreak. Its polony products have been recalled by the National Consumer Commission.

A second Enterprise factory in Germiston tested positive for listeria‚ but the strain of listeria is not yet known as testing is continuing. It can take five days of testing to identify the DNA strain of listeria.

The two companies were notified on Sunday morning that their factories were to blame and products from those factories will be recalled. The companies have to stop production and will have to recall all their products. They have lost their export licence for now.

Lionel October‚ Director General for the Department of Trade and Industry‚ said there must have been a drop in the standards in food testing by these companies. “It is clear there was a break in the procedures of testing and quality.”

One of the problems that led to the outbreak‚ said Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi‚ is that health inspectors - called environmental health practitioners - are employed by local municipalities. These are the people who do random health and safety testing of restaurants‚ food production facilities and factories. He said some municipalities “struggled to deliver basic services such as refuse removal and employing health inspectors was low on their list of priorities”.

He said health inspectors needed to be employed by the national department of health and in order to do this the Constitution should be changed.

Motsoaledi explained how scientists traced the source of the outbreak.

Five children from the same crèche were hospitalised for gastro-enteritis at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in January. Doctors suspected food poisoning. Samples from patients and their stools showed listeria monocytogenes strain 6.

The children had eaten polony at the crèche. Samples of polony from the crèche were taken by inspectors. One was made by Enterprise and the other by Rainbow Chicken. This gave clues to scientists of which factories to visit.

Head of Outbreak Response at the NICD Dr Kerrigan McCarthy said if people had recently eaten Enterprise polony or polony made by Rainbow Chicken‚ they must not panic.

“The vast majority of people who consumed these products will in fact be fine. There is absolutely no reason to worry.”

She explained only people living with HIV and pregnant women and those with a compressed immune system are at risk. “In the absence of symptoms one should not worry. If someone with a weakened immune system has consumed these foods and developed stomach problems or fever and diarrhoea‚ go to the doctor and be tested.”

The health minister asked people at risk of listeria not to eat any ready- to eat meat products such as viennas‚ polony and frankfurters. This is because polony is stored together with other ready to eat meats at retailers and can lead to cross-contamination.

Motsoaledi said pregnant woman must avoid polony and ready to eat meat “like the plague”.

Cooking food kills listeria.

Motsoaledi asked people to use diluted bleach of Jik to clean their fridges if they had stored polony or processed meat such as viennas in them.

All shops will have to remove Enterprise products and Rainbow Chicken-made polony from their shelves.