The announcement made by Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi on Sunday to recall all processed meat products following a listeriosis outbreak has caused South Africans to panic while food producers scramble to provide answers.
Tiger Brands Chief Executive Officer Lawrence MacDougall said on Monday that the Department of Health (DoH) approached and advised the company about the seriousness of the outbreak at the same time the public was informed, Sunday afternoon.
He said he had no prior knowledge of the extent of the contamination and was told to pull three of his products off the shelves as a result of the listerosis outbreak.
After discovering traces of the listeriosis bacteria in polony and other processed meat products, Motsoaledi called for products to be taken off shelves to protect South Africans from the deadly disease. A total of 180 people have died as a result of eating these products.
MacDougall told reporters that Tiger Brands exceeded the DoH request and recalled all of its products, “in the interest and safety of the consumer”, however, he said that Tiger Brands cannot take responsibility for the deaths of the 180 people, until such time that a direct link is confirmed.
MacDougall did confirm that a low level detection of the virus was found in Tiger Brands’ products in February, which then prompted the decision to take “immediate precautionary measures” to reduce spreading of the virus. As a result of the DoH and the Department of Trade and Industry’s instruction, Tiger Brands closed two facilities, one in Polokwane and another in Germiston.
At this point in time, MacDougall said he could not confirm what the financial implications to the group would be, but did say that “the cost of withdrawal (of products) out of all the market is at a high expense”.
In addition, MacDougall said that he does not have a contingency plan to regain consumer confidence, as this is not on his priority list at this moment in time.
The share price of Tiger Brands, a food retailer, manufacturer and producer of a number of food brands, including cold meats, has fallen 7.4%, to R393 a share on Monday, as at 16:51.
RCL Foods, formerly known as Rainbow Chickens, saw its share price see-saw following the announcement. After falling 5% in the day, it recovered to R17.11, 0.5% down at the market close.
The company was not conducting interviews, but told its shareholders via a Sens statement on Monday that it does not own the facility in Polokwane that the Department of Health is linking the listerosis outbreak to. It added that no link has been made between its Wolwehoek facility and the outbreak.
The DoH called for all polony products to be taken off shelves after detecting the virus in RCL Foods’ Wolwehoek facility.
The company added that while a direct link between the outbreak and its Wolwehoek facility has not been confirmed, it has taken precautionary measures to suspend all of its production of Rainbow Polony brand at the facility and has also recalled all Rainbow Polony products from its entire customer base.
Management advised shareholders in the statement that a senior team is meeting with relevant stakeholders to discuss the impact of the issue.
As a result of the outbreak, a number of retailers and a franchisor, namely Woolworths, Pick n Pay, Shoprite and South African fast-food chain owner Famous Brands, decided to remove all ready-to-eat meat products from shelves and outlets.