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Government blames processed meat firms for delays in listeria probe

Zambia wants products recalled, Mozambiqe halts imports.

South Africa’s government on Monday blamed a lack of cooperation by producers of cold meats for a delay in finding the cause of a listeria outbreak that has killed 180 people in the past year.

As shoppers queued up to return processed meat items and demand refunds, shares in food firms Tiger Brands and RCL Foods slid on Monday over their links to the outbreak, that began in January 2017, before staging a recovery.

The government, which has been criticised for taking too long to find the source of the disease, on Sunday linked the outbreak to a meat product known as “polony” made by Tiger unit Enterprise Food. It also said it was investigating an RCL plant.

Both firms, which have said they are fully cooperating with the authorities, suspended processed meat production at their plants after health authorities ordered a recall of cold meats associated with the outbreak from outlets at home and abroad.

South Africa’s 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 when asked why it had taken more than a year to find the cause of listeria.

He said all firms in the industry were being examined.

South Africa’s processed meat market grew about 8% in 2017 to a retail value of $412 million, according to Euromonitor International. Tiger Brands has a 35.7% market share, followed by Eskort Bacon Co-Operative with 21.8%. Rhodes Food, RCL Foods and Astral Foods each have less than 5%.

Tiger Brands, Eskort, RCL Foods, Rhodes and Astral said they had complied with all requests from the health authorities.

Read: ‘No direct link’ between deaths and products, say food producers on listeria outbreak

Lawrence McDougall, the CEO of Tiger Brands, said there was no direct link between the deaths and its cold meat products. “We are unaware of any direct link,” he told a media briefing.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi had said on Sunday the outbreak had been traced to a Tiger Brands factory in the northern city of Polokwane.

The authorities are also investigating a second Tiger Brands factory and have not said when they could conclude tests on RCL Foods, which has a plant under investigation.

Rhodes said it produced processed canned meat, which it said was more closely regulated and different from the cold processed meat manufactured by its rivals.

Astral said it produced fresh and frozen chicken and not polonies and other items implicated in the listeria outbreak.

Both Rhodes and Astral said their products were safe.

Fast food chain owner Famous Brands said it was recalling ready-to-eat meat products from its retail outlets.

Cleaning Frenzy

The minister told South Africans not to consume any ready-to-eat processed meat due to the risk of cross-contamination, a directive that will hit a popular food segment in Africa’s most industrialised economy.

The announcement prompted a frenzied clearing and cleaning of the shelves by local supermarkets chains Shoprite, Pick n Pay, Spar and Woolworths, which also urged consumers to return the meats for refunds.

Zambia’s high commissioner to South Africa, Emmanuel Mwamba, urged South African retail chain stores operating in Zambia to recall ready-to-eat meat products imported from that country following the confirmation of the source of listeria bacteria.

Mozambique said it was suspending imports of South African processed meat. Botswana said it would recall all processed meat from its southern neighbour, while Malawi said it had intensified screening of imported meat, vegetables and fruits.

Shares in Tiger Brands sank as much as 13%, before recouping some losses to close 7.4% lower at R393.38. RCL Foods fell more than 6% but later recovered to trade down 0.5% at R17.11.

There have been 948 cases of listeria reported since January 2017. The disease causes flu-like symptoms, nausea, diarrhoea and infection of the blood stream and brain.

Dozens of customers lined up outside a Tiger Brands outlet, carrying bags of cold meat products and demanding refunds.

“I lost trust with Enterprise. I’ll be scared even if they say this problem is solved. I would rather go back to peanut butter and jam,” said call centre agent Tshepo Makhura, 37.

Deline Smith, a 57-year-old housewife with three full bags, said: “I hope my grandchildren are going to be okay because we gave them food over the weekend from these parcels.”

Analysts said profits at the two firms were unlikely to be hit hard. Standard Bank analyst Sumil Seeraj estimated the recall would cut operating profit at Tiger Brand’s value added foods division by 6 percent at most.

“The big hit is going to come with inventory write-offs because they are recalling all these products. That’s most likely where they will lose because the inventory write-off will affect operating profit from that division,” Seeraj said.

The Enterprise unit of Tiger Brands had “a very strong brand in meat”, he said, adding: “In the short term consumers will switch to other forms of protein.” 

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180 people died because we do not know what basic hygiene entails … Well Done Corporate SA!

Since there is no Consumer protection Unions ; this matter will follow a silent death. Just like traffic deaths during Easter and Christmas. I just hope that us consumers become more active.

In the mines just one death underground will raise the ire of Unions.

Government is blatantly incompetent. Trowing blame is all they can do…can’t take responsibility. If the Ramaphosa government doesn’t shift gear they are going to get stuck in the de-evolution rut.

Intelligent people search for context and avoid emotional reactions to events. 948 people were diagnosed with listerioses during 2017. During the same year 4 million people were treated for diabetes.

This tells us that the ratio of people who deliberately poison themselves by eating hygienically produced refined carbs, far outnumbers those who fell ill by eating polony that was produced at an unhygienic facility.

Now we have the case of the militant mother who overreacts on social media and accuses Tiger Brands of negligence, while she sent her kid to school this morning with a chocolate, a muffin, a coke and a packet of chips in his lunchbox.

It is a crazy world we are living in.

Indeed, lets add to this the irrational people who emigrate because of the crime from their leafy suburb in SA to London where the crime rate is actually way higher.

I’m with you in sentiment, but murder is a tad higher in our leafy suburbs than in urban or suburban London.

So residential armed robberies and hijackings are a big thing in London?

I fear London’s back-street punks the most 😉 But the British police force “Bobby on the beat” must surely be more effective than SAPS?

Anyhow, I would like to hear your work-experience in the UK, and drawing some comparisons between SA life and UK life. (Have a few SA clients relocated abroad, but people’s experiences are always vastly different). If I recall correctly, I think it was you that said in a previous post “living overseas/Europe is over-rated”?

Personally, I think the broad middle class in SA live a fairly comfortable life(?), despite “donating” income tax for others to benefit.

supersunbird: No, knife stabbings and acid attacks are. Check out the website for more info.

Citation needed? I’m in London, and this is is simply not true.

@MichaelfromKlerksdorp. Working in the UK is ok, its just the weather and small overpriced houses that are the problem.

Indeed true Sensei. Something to think about. (Heard another statistic on the African continent, that the combined human deaths caused by much feared crocs & hippos of 5,900 pales in comparison to mozzies’ 600,000 to 1million per annum. Staggering.)

I can see in my mind’s eye some concerned people complaining about Enterprise’ health standards, while smoking a cigarette 😉

Safety, whether it be in food processing or mining comes down to the person involved.
A good friend of mine on the mines told me once that a lot of mine accidents were caused by human attitude. Its sounds funny but he told me that in the new SA a lot of the miners resented being checked on by a superior. They told him they know what they are doing, but take short cuts and forget things, next thing is an accident.
I know of a small town that was being electrified, The white electricians were chased off the job by the black EsKom electricians. After 6 deaths they called them back. The anchor wires were live, kids playing were electrocuted.
The same could happen in a food factory, one disgruntled worker can upset the system.
So before we slaughter Tiger and RCL and WMC lets get the facts.

“Tiger Brands CEO says no link between listeria deaths and firm’s products.”
Wonder if he’s talking polony!

Wonder if CEO is prepared to eat it ?

I have tried polony only once during the nearly 50 years I have spent in SA and found that it is fitting only for feeding dogs. Anybody who has ever tried the versions sold in Europe knows what I am talking about.

A question never asked is how many hundreds of thousands, in fact, millions of people, have eaten the listeria-contaminated products over the years without incurring any illness?

Listeriosis is in the water. In hospitals. The super bug is on the march.

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