So were all those Woolies hams just plain old Enterprise in fancy packs?

23 March 2018 - 14:17
Image: Daylin Paul

For the “too posh for polony” South African consumers‚ the listeriosis crisis suddenly got real when Woolworths withdrew 33 of its popular cold meat products‚ revealing that they were produced in the Enterprise plant which has been named by the health department as the source of the outbreak.

Salami sticks‚ fancy hams‚ chorizo - off the shelves they all went‚ 33 products in all - as the casualties in the world’s worst listeriosis outbreak grew. At last count‚ 978 people have fallen ill and 183 of them have died.

“So Woolworths has been lying to us all along?” tweeted Riaan Pretorius. "Turns out their products are no different from the listeriosis-laced Enterprise products? Why have we been paying the extra 30% for "peace-of-mind/organic/single-origin" etc. #Sies!"

'African Child' tweeted: “That moment after telling your mom‚ no I don't buy Enterprise products‚ I only eat Woolies ham and Woolies releases a statement saying they getting rid of all processed meats because they used Enterprise for some of their products... but why charge us so much?”

So was Woolworths just dressing plain old ham up in fancy packaging and charging a premium price for the perception of a better product?

Not so‚ the retailer says - its formulations and food safety processes were unique to their products.

Does that mean that Woolworths products were treated in way which made them less likely to be contaminated with listeria than Enterprise’s own products?

Woolworths’ and Tiger Brands' responses to that question don’t quite gel.

The retailer says they had a dedicated facility within the Enterprise plant for the high-risk slicing and packing of their product and extra monitoring and testing for listeria.

“Woolies ready-to-eat products are sliced and packed in a dedicated production facility within Enterprise Polokwane and Germiston plants.

“This is the high-risk food production area which is managed through very strict health and safety measures and is clearly demarcated in the facility.

"It is separated from the rest of factory with sanitising tunnels and/or a cooking line‚ which are critical control points. These are the places within a production process where there is a risk of contamination from the low-risk area and we have very clear protocol on how to manage this risk.”

Plus the retailer has a team of food scientists and technologists who proactively manage food safety‚ it says‚ in addition to its independent food safety testing and auditing‚ to prevent microbial contamination of food.

Tiger Brands spokesperson Nevashnee Naicker says while Woolworths helped the company develop the best-practice food safety procedures and protocols in its factory‚ there wasn’t one standard for Woolworths products and a lesser one for all the others.

“There are no dedicated production facilities for Woolworths‚” she said. “The facilities‚ production areas and the processing lines are common‚ and the same standards underpin everything that is manufactured at the Enterprise Foods factories‚ regardless of how they are branded.”

But Woolworths is sticking to its “different” story.

“Once our products are produced in the common low-risk area‚ they then follow a different stream‚ according to our hygiene protocol‚ to gain access to the high-risk area that is a segregated and controlled environment for slicing and packaging.

“This is the fundamental difference between Woolworths products and the ‘polony bombs’ which have been implicated in the Listeria outbreak.”

Government regulations allow for a maximum listeria detection of 100 colony forming units (CPUs) per gram in finished products - less than that is not considered to be contamination.

Both Woolworths and Tiger Brands say their regular testing of products out of the Enterprise Polokwane and Germiston facilities did not pick up any contamination in products.

And before the health ministry’s March 4 bombshell announcement that the listeriosis outbreak source was the Enterprise factory in Polokwane‚ no Woolworths customers had complained of falling ill after eating the products in question‚ the company says.

Four came forward with such claims after the press conference.

Identifying a listeriosis food culprit is complicated by the fact that it takes anything from a few weeks to 70 days for a person to show symptoms after consuming a contaminated product‚ the average incubation period being three weeks.

  • Wendy Knowler is TimesLIVE's consumer champion. You can contact her on email: consumer@knowler.co.za or via Twitter: @wendyknowler
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