SMALL business owner Seipei Rasethaba has been spending sleepless nights worried about the future of his employees since the source of the deadly Listeriosis was announced.
Rasethaba runs a promising street corner take-away shop in the Polokwane CBD, with what is known as “kotas” being a hit with his customers. The popular ingredients of “kotas” are mostly processed meats which he used to source from Tiger Brands-owned Enterprise Food in Polokwane.
Like many other small business owners dealing in “kotas”, Rasethaba has seen income plummeting since the beginning of this week, hence he remains worried. The shop is his source of income and employment to four other people.
“This is very worrying. I think the manner in which all this was announced caused panic. People were left with an impression that all the polony, russians and other processed meats that goes into ‘kotas’ can make them sick. Therefore, business owners cannot even source the products from other unaffected factories,” Rasethaba said.
He has now seen his gross income plummeting from an average of R4 500 to R1 500-a-day since the beginning of this week: “People are just now afraid to eat processed meats. They think every processed meat is now unhealthy. This is a crisis which I don’t know how is going to end,” he said.
To mitigate the losses, Rasethaba and other business owners have come up with the “new kota”, using different ingredients with the hope their businesses will be kept afloat.
The announcement of the source of the deadly disease which has so far killed 180 people across the country sent many people to the Enterprise Food in Polokwane to demand the refund.
The company also runs a factory shop which sells directly to members of the public but is now closed.
But on Monday, a chaotic situation almost prevailed when members of the public and small business owners were told they cannot be refunded as the company does not keep cash on the premises. However, the situation was resolved when an agreement was reached for refund.
Health Ministry said the source of the outbreak was found after pre-school children fell ill from eating polony products traced to processed meat producers.
“The meat processing industry was not cooperating for months. They did not bring the samples as requested. We had long suspected that listeria can be found in these products,” the ministry’s communications director, Popo Maja, told Reuters.
“It is not that we are incompetent, or that we have inadequate resources,” Maja said, pointing out that all firms in the industry were being examined.
However, Tiger Brands has denied that its products were the reason 180 people have died since the outbreak of Listeriosis at its plants.
CEO Lawrence MacDougall admitted that they detected low levels of Listeriosis but refused to agree that the levels could have killed people.
“There is no direct link to the deaths and our product at the moment. I cannot guess as to what the link might be, and all I can confirm at the moment is that there is no link. So, there are no links directly to the deaths,” he said.
The denial comes on the backdrop of the company recalling its cold meat products following an announcement by Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi saying the outbreak originated from the company’s Polokwane plant.
MacDougall said despite the announcement, their facilities surpassed South African safety standards and conformed to European standards. He maintained that levels of listeria in their Polokwane facility was below the accepted threshold.
MacDougall said they suspended operations at both Enterprise manufacturing plants in Polokwane and Germiston following the
announcement. He added that the company was doing everything in its powers to deal with the matter.
“We are working tirelessly to get to the bottom of this outbreak. Our first priority is the consumer, their health and safety and to get the affected products off the market,” MacDougall said.
People have been encouraged to take back any product they might have bought for a full refund. Retailers such as Pick n Pay, Woolworths, Checkers and Spar are all offering refunds to consumers as the country tries to grapple with the outbreak.