ENTERPRISE Foods manufacturing plant in Polokwane, Limpopo, remained closed this week as the deadly Listeriosis continues to be a political ballgame.
The continual closure follows the confirmation by Tiger Brands on April 24 this year of the presence of Listeria bacteria in the ready-to-eat processed meat from samples collected in Polokwane.
However, the Democratic Alliance (DA) has since accused Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi of lack of political will to get to the bottom of the outbreak.
“While we welcome this sign of openness and transparency on the part of Tiger Brands and the decision to keep the facility closed whilst remedial work is done, the reality is that currently, we don’t know how the contaminated factories were infected,” the DA said.
“Currently, South Africa has no continual testing of imported products because the Chief Environmental Health and Port Health Services instructed Port Health Officials to stop testing imported chicken products for Listeria.
“Considering that South Africa imports Brazilian meat products, a country which does not recognise Listeria as a notifiable disease as well as recent reports that Australia has been exporting Listeria-contaminated products to South Africa, the government must ensure that testing for the Listeria bacterium continues.
“The reality is that there has been a lack of political will and clarity on the part of Minister Motsoaledi to get to the bottom of the Listeriosis outbreak. This, and the fact that the primary source of the outbreak has not yet been identified has caused confusion among the public,” the party said.
The party has since published a letter dated 6 April 2018 purported to have been written by Chief Director of Environmental Health and Port Health Services to regional directors of northern and central regions to stop all sampling of imported meat products for Listeria bacteria.
The letter reads in part: “The sampling of raw imported poultry is therefore no longer required based on the findings of the investigations conducted during the outbreak. Regions are thus requested to cease all sampling of imported meat products for the purposes of determining the presence of Listeria Monocytogenes with immediate effect.”
The DA believes it was vital for South Africa to test imported goods on an ongoing basis to ensure protection against any possible contamination.
But the letter indicated that the order to stop all sampling of imported meat was informed by the statement of Motsoaledi on 4 March this year that the source of the current outbreak was in the processing plants located in the country.
At the press briefing on that day, Motsoaledi described the process of the investigation which started when nine children aged five years from a creche in Soweto were presented at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital complaining of febrile gastro-enteritis on January 12 this year. Subsequent investigations concluded that the source of the outbreak was Enterprise Foods production facility in Polokwane.
Announcing the results of the independent findings, Tiger Brands CEO Mac Dougall said: “We are enormously disappointed by this development. We are making every effort to ascertain how ST6 arrived in a product manufactured in our production facility in Polokwane, despite us adhering strictly to all the prevailing industry standards. We again apologise to our customers, even as we still try to determine how it had happened.”
The outbreak of Listeriosis has since negatively affected small businesses in Limpopo and other parts of the country, especially in the townships and villages where a meal known as “sphahlo” whose ingredients also contain ready-to-eat meats has become a norm.