Listeriosis outbreak: 4‚000 tons of cold meat headed for hazardous waste sites

08 March 2018 - 07:52 By Katharine Child
Businessman Phillip Sibia queues to return meat to the Enterprise Factory store in Germiston, east of Johannesburg on March 5 2018.
Businessman Phillip Sibia queues to return meat to the Enterprise Factory store in Germiston, east of Johannesburg on March 5 2018.
Image: Alaister Russell/The Sunday Times

A whopping 4‚000 tons of polony and viennas is the initial estimate of how much recalled cold meat will be sent to dump sites.

This is according to EnviroServ Waste Management's Dr Johan Schoonrad‚ a treatment and disposal specialist.

On Sunday‚ the National Consumer Commission recalled Enterprise polony‚ russians and frankfurters as well as Rainbow Chicken Polony‚ due to the presence of listeria monocytogenes bacteria at the factories that produce this food. At least 180 patients have died from listeriosis‚ linked to bacteria at the Enterprise processed meat factory in Polokwane.

Consumers have been advised to return meats to retailers to dispose of.

EnviroServ is one of the waste companies that has made a bid to Tiger Brands and Rainbow Chicken Limited to help dispose of recalled cold meats.

Late on Wednesday afternoon‚ the Department of Environmental Affairs gave an exemption to waste management companies to dispose the meat in hazardous waste landfills rather than in medical waste sites.

"Usually infectious products are classified as medical waste‚" said Schoonrad. However‚ Schoonrad said‚ medical waste facilities in South Africa are not designed to deal with so much waste.

He said waste companies had been waiting for permission to dispose of the polony without classifying it as a medical waste product.

The department of environmental affairs letter to waste companies reads: "The receiving waste site must undertake a risk assessment and submit a risk management plan to the department demonstrating that the proposed management option will ensure that the waste is managed in such a way that it no longer poses a risk to human and animal health or the environment."

The letter is signed by department of environmental affairs chief director in hazardous waste management and licencing.

"Four thousand tons is not substantial for a hazardous site‚" said Schoonrad‚ saying a disposal would only take a few days.

A hazardous site has strict access control unlike a municipal landfill‚ he said.

Schoonrad said EnviroServ's proposed plan was to collect the meat‚ cover it with lime and then bury it. "Lime is caustic and will break down the bacteria's cell wall".

Schoonrad said the listeria would be far easier to treat with lime than fungi that had spores and could send germs back into the environment.

It is not clear which waste management company will be chosen to dispose of the cold meats.

Consumers have been advised by microbiologists not to throw away cold meats but to return them to retailers‚ even without a till slip.

Those who cannot reach retailers should burn the polony to avoid the listeria bacteria spreading from the dustbin into the environment.

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