Don't panic if you have eaten Enterprise polony

04 March 2018 - 15:03 By Katharine Child
Enterprise polony samples tested positive for the listeria monocytogenes strain ST6 that caused the outbreak.
Enterprise polony samples tested positive for the listeria monocytogenes strain ST6 that caused the outbreak.
Image: Supplied via Enterprise

One factory has been blamed as the source of the world’s largest outbreak of listeriosis - the Enterprise Foods polony factory in Polokwane‚ Limpopo.

This emerged at a media conference on Sunday at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) in Johannesburg.

The world’s largest outbreak of listeriosis has occurred in South Africa with 180 confirmed deaths and just under 1‚000 laboratory-confirmed cases.

Environmental health practitioners‚ members of the Department of Health and technical advisers from the World Health Organisation visited the Enterprise factory and took samples from it.

Sixteen samples tested positive for the listeria monocytogenes strain ST6 that caused the outbreak. The DNA test results of the bacteria were confirmed late on Saturday night by the NICD.

“The environmental swabs indicated massive listeria contamination‚” said World Health Organisation country representative Rufaro Chatora.

Samples from two other factories have tested positive for the listeria bacteria.

A Rainbow Chicken facility in Wolweburg in Sasolburg also had listeria in its factory‚ but it is not the same source of the outbreak. Its polony products have been recalled by the National Consumer Commission.

A second Enterprise factory in Germiston tested positive for listeria‚ but the strain of listeria is not yet known as testing is continuing. It can take five days of testing to identify the DNA strain of listeria.

The source of the recent Listeriosis outbreak in the country has been found. Here is what we know so far.

The two companies were notified on Sunday morning that their factories were to blame and products from those factories would be recalled. The companies have to stop production and will have to recall all their products. They have lost their export licence for now.

Lionel October‚ director-general of the Department of Trade and Industry‚ said there must have been a drop in the standards in food testing by these companies. “It is clear there was a break in the procedures of testing and quality.”

One of the problems that led to the outbreak‚ said Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi‚ is that health inspectors - called environmental health practitioners - are employed by local municipalities. These are the people who do random health and safety testing of restaurants‚ food production facilities and factories.

He said some municipalities “struggled to deliver basic services such as refuse removal and employing health inspectors was low on their list of priorities”.

He said health inspectors should instead be employed by the national Department of Health. In order to do that, the Constitution had to be changed.

Motsoaledi explained how scientists had traced the source of the outbreak.

Five children from the same crèche were hospitalised for gastro-enteritis at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in January. Doctors suspected food poisoning. Samples from patients and their stools showed listeria monocytogenes strain 6.

The children had eaten polony at the crèche. Samples of polony from the crèche were taken by inspectors. One was made by Enterprise and the other by Rainbow Chicken. This gave clues to scientists of which factories to visit.

Head of outbreak response at the NICD Dr Kerrigan McCarthy said if people had recently eaten Enterprise polony, or polony made by Rainbow Chicken‚ they should not panic.

“The vast majority of people who consumed these products will in fact be fine. There is absolutely no reason to worry.”

She explained only people living with HIV and pregnant women and those with a compressed immune system were at risk. “In the absence of symptoms one should not worry. If someone with a weakened immune system has consumed these foods and developed stomach problems or fever and diarrhoea‚ go to the doctor and be tested.”

The health minister asked people at risk of listeria not to eat any ready-to-eat meat products such as viennas‚ polony and frankfurters. This is because polony is stored with other meats at retailers, which can lead to cross-contamination.

Motsoaledi said pregnant women had to avoid polony and ready-to-eat meats “like the plague”.

Cooking food kills listeria.

The minister asked people to use diluted bleach of Jik to clean their fridges if they had stored polony or processed meat such as viennas in them.

All shops will have to remove Enterprise products and Rainbow Chicken-made polony from their shelves.