According to the NICD, Aas of 26 March 2018, a total of 982 laboratory-confirmed listeriosis cases have been reported to NICD since 01 January 2017 (Figure 1). Most cases have been reported from Gauteng Province (59%, 576/982) followed by Western Cape (12%, 121/982) and KwaZulu-Natal (7%, 71/982) provinces. Cases have been diagnosed in both public (65%, 634/982) and private (35%, 348/982) healthcare sectors.Listeria monocytogenes was most commonly isolated/detected on blood culture (72%, 711/982), followed by CSF (21%, 207/982). Where age was reported (n=943), ages range from birth to 93 years (median 22 years) and 41% (404/982) are neonates aged ≤28 days (Figure 2). Of neonatal cases, 96% (389/404) had early-onset disease (birth to ≤6 days). Females account for 56% (531/950) of cases where gender is reported. Final outcome data is available for 70% (687/982) of cases, of which 28% (189/687) died.

The recall of polony has turned the tide on illnesses.

But, what about the victims, where are their stories?

I am just not sure about this.  Should a grower responsible for illnesses and deaths and the devastation of the Australian rockmelon industry be allowed to start production of rockmelon months after an outbreak?

NWS Food Safety Authority announced yesterday the likely cause of 19 Listeria illnesses with sixth deaths.

What is Listeria and how do rockmelons become contaminated?

While rockmelons are grown off the ground on top of plastic sheeting, the fruit is grown in the open farm environment and subject to rain, wind and other natural contamination pathways. Listeria species, including Listeria monocytogenes, are soil bacteria that are naturally found in the environment, including farm paddocks. It is not unusual to find Listeria on the surfaces of any raw fruit and vegetable. Rockmelon skin is rough and irregular which allows more soil and bacteria like Listeria to be trapped.

How did this outbreak happen?

To reduce the risk of contamination farms usually wash and sanitise rockmelons. The investigation found that the contamination is likely to have occurred due to adverse weather (localised storm over the farm and subsequent dust storms during the season) increasing the levels of Listeria on the fruit prior to harvest. On this occasion and despite following industry best practice, the washing and sanitising at Rombola Family Farms was not able to remove all the trapped bacteria from the rockmelon surfaces, resulting in a low level of Listeria being present.

Inspections by the NSW Food Authority found there was also an opportunity for the introduction of Listeria after washing through contact with surfaces or equipment that may have had traces of Listeria monocytogenes. This includes dust blown from fans used to dry the fruit after washing, and from porous material on packing tables that was not able to be effectively cleaned at the time.

While Listeria monocytogenes is not an issue for healthy consumers, it poses a serious health risk for those vulnerable to infection, such as individuals who are immunocompromised or pregnant.

What are the results of the investigation?

The NSW Food Authority has completed extensive microbiological swabbing of the packing shed environment and equipment for Listeria. Listeria species and Listeria monocytogenes was found on the packing shed floor during the investigation, which is not surprising as Listeria are often found in soil.

Melons from boxed product at Flemington Markets tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes and a trade level recall was initiated on
28 February. That same day the NSW Food Authority issued a media release advising consumers to discard any rockmelon they may have purchased.

Melons obtained at retail, wholesale, and a swab of melons at the packing shed tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes. The genetic sequence of these Listeria isolates was an exact match with clinical cases. No rockmelons or swabs from other farms tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes.

During the investigation there was an allegation of raw organic fertiliser use on the rockmelon crop which was found to be incorrect. There is no reason to believe this played a role in the outbreak.

Why is the NSW Food Authority allowing the farm to pack rockmelons?

The production of rockmelons on the farm and packing shed environment has been investigated. During March 2018, further rockmelon packing trials and swabbing verified effective washing and sanitising is in place. The company has fully cooperated with the NSW Food Authority and has made significant line modifications to improve cleaning. They have also increased cleaning and sanitising of the packing line environment and increased the sanitiser concentration during the washing of melons. The company and the NSW Food Authority will continue to monitor the situation through inspections and product sampling. The NSW Food Authority is currently satisfied that the company has adequate steps in place to minimise the risk of foodborne illness, noting that immunocompromised people should avoid rockmelons.  No melons from the farm will be released for sale prior to testing for Listeria.

Will it happen again?

While rockmelons from Rombola are washed, sanitised and packed under hygienic conditions there is no absolute guarantee that any fresh produce item will be free from Listeria. The NSW Food Authority recommends that any farm produce eaten raw should be thoroughly washed before consumption. Consumers who are immunocompromised or pregnant are also advised to avoid high risk foods, including rockmelons.

What happens next?

The NSW Food Authority will continue to work with the industry and food regulatory agencies to share lessons learnt from this outbreak. This includes interstate businesses and food safety agencies so the industry as a whole can move forward with confidence in the future.

Summary of Key Findings:

  • Of the 439 clinical isolates from case-patients sequenced to date, 92% belong to sequence type 6 (ST6) and are highly genetically related. This confirms that this single strain is causing the outbreak and is responsible for disease in the vast majority of patients with listeriosis.
  • As 86% of patients interviewed reported eating polony in the month before falling ill with listeriosis, ready-to-eat processed meat products became the focus of investigations.
  • The outbreak strain isolates from patients and from the Enterprise Foods’ Polokwane production facility (notably, the post-cooking area and the final product clips and casing) differ by only ≤7 single base pairs out of 3 million. This extremely high level of genetic relatedness (99.99% similarity) means there can be no doubt that these L. monocytogenes ST6 strains are all linked, and that there is certainty that products manufactured at Enterprise Polokwane are the source of the outbreak. This is much like paternity confirmation by DNA testing.
  • Seven samples of ready-to-eat processed meat products taken on 15 February 2018 tested positive for L. monocytogenes ST6 (outbreak strain). This means that the outbreak strain has been found inside the ready-to-eat processed meat products manufactured at Enterprise Foods’ Polokwane production facility, dispelling claims made to the contrary.

Issued by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) of the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS)

Date of release: 02 April 2018

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) is concerned about recent developments and statements supposedly released as facts into the public domain about the listeriosis outbreak.

We are particularly worried about the confusion that emanated from statements made at the meeting called by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Agriculture on 28 March 2018.

Of major concern are the claims that the primary source of the outbreak is still unknown, and that the Minister of Health has backed down on his previous announcement that the source had been identified, both of which we refute. The statements the Minister of Health has made have emanated from epidemiologic and scientific investigations conducted by the NICD. The implication that the NICD has misled the Minister of Health and the public is rejected. Furthermore, we condemn the statement made that the government prematurely scapegoated ‘Enterprise and Rainbow’ without sufficient evidence. We contend that this evidence has been amply provided by the NICD.*

We do not regard these claims as a small matter, because the NICD is not just a routine diagnostic laboratory with an impact localised to South Africa. The NICD’s work goes far beyond the borders of our country and has an international impact. In outbreaks of this nature, the NICD is obligated by the International Health Regulations to report findings through the National Department of Health to the World Health Organization, and cannot afford to, and does not mislead.

To serve its purpose, the NICD has specialised laboratories and public health and epidemiologic expertise. This expertise leads it to serve as a reference centre, not only for the public and private sectors in South Africa, but across Africa. It shares information and works together with the World Health Organization (WHO) and eminent international institutions (including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) of the USA, the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) and Public Health England). The NICD is the co-ordinator of the prestigious PulseNet Africa network, within PulseNet International. PulseNet is a global network of laboratories dedicated to tracking foodborne infections (including listeriosis) world-wide, all of whose laboratories, including the NICD, utilise internationally-recognised standardised genotyping methods and share information in real-time.

Therefore, the work of the NICD is scientifically sound and evidence-based. For those who still have lingering doubts, this is how we arrived at the conclusions announced by the Minister of Health on 04 March 2018.

The search for the cause of the outbreak began with the isolates of Listeria monocytogenes bacteria from case-patients referred from National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) and private sector clinical laboratories to the NICD, where they underwent confirmatory testing and whole genome sequencing (WGS). WGS is the most sensitive and specific molecular tool available to assess genetic relatedness of bacterial isolates. Of the 439 clinical isolates from case-patients sequenced to date, 92% belong to sequence type 6 (ST6) and are highly genetically related. This confirms that this single strain is causing the outbreak and is responsible for disease in the vast majority of patients with listeriosis.

At the same time, an intensive process of trying to identify the source of the outbreak was undertaken by the Departments of Health (DoH), Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) and Trade and Industry (DTI), municipalities and the NICD. Epidemiological investigations included interviewing patients. As 86% of patients interviewed reported eating polony in the month before falling ill with listeriosis, ready-to-eat processed meat products became the focus of investigations. The key breakthrough came when a group of nine children attending the same crèche in Soweto developed febrile gastroenteritis in January 2018. The L. monocytogenes ST6 outbreak strain was identified in one child and in three samples of two brands of polony from the refrigerator at the crèche. This prompted further investigation of the production facilities manufacturing these polony products.

Enterprise Foods’ Polokwane production facility was visited on 2 February 2018 by a team, which included two WHO food safety experts. Extensive sampling was done. Polony production involves a number of steps: raw ingredients are mixed into an emulsion, the polony emulsion is poured into casings (the plastic wrapping) and clipped at either end of the casing, the polony is cooked in its casing, then finally it is cooled. Any Listeria that is present in the raw ingredients or emulsion should be killed during the cooking process. However, any L. monocytogenes found beyond the cooking stage poses the danger of contaminating the polony and causing disease, because polony is not usually cooked again before it is eaten. Of great concern was that the L. monocytogenes ST6 outbreak strain was found in the post-cooking processing environment, and also on the final polony products.

The whole genome sequencing (WGS) technology that identified the ST6 outbreak strain is the gold standard method for characterising which specific L. monocytogenes strain is causing an outbreak. This highly specialised test is performed at the NICD. WGS essentially shows the genetic fingerprint of the bacteria, by sequencing the chemical building blocks (nucleotides or base pairs) that make up its genome (the complete set of its DNA, including all of its genes). The L. monocytogenes genome has approximately 3 million base pairs. The outbreak strain isolates from patients and from the Enterprise Foods’ Polokwane production facility (notably, the post-cooking area and the final product clips and casing) differ by only ≤7 single base pairs out of 3 million. This extremely high level of genetic relatedness (99.99% similarity) means there can be no doubt that these L. monocytogenes ST6 strains are all linked, and that there is certainty that products manufactured at Enterprise Polokwane are the source of the outbreak. This is much like paternity confirmation by DNA testing.

From the evidence above, it is extremely misleading for anyone to claim that the primary cause of this listeriosis outbreak is unknown.

Since the first press conference held by the Minister of Health on 05 December 2017, it has been reiterated many times that L. monocytogenes is widely found in nature and can be found in water, soil, vegetation, and the faeces of some animals. Food can be contaminated from any of these sources throughout the food chain (farm, processing, packaging, retail and home food preparation). However, normal food production safety measures and water treatment procedures should deal with the risk of contamination. In addition, the WHO’s five keys to safer food should be practiced by all. These are:

• Wash hands and surfaces before, and regularly during food preparation.
•Separate raw and cooked food, and don’t mix utensils and surfaces when preparing
food
•Cook food thoroughly – all bacteria are killed above 70°C
•Keep food at safe temperatures – either simmering hot, or in the fridge
•Use safe water and safe ingredients to prepare food.

*We can report today that additional results from samples of products produced at the Enterprise Polokwane production facility and sold at the Enterprise Germiston factory shop are available. Seven samples of ready-to-eat processed meat products taken on 15 February 2018 tested positive for L. monocytogenes ST6 (outbreak strain). This means that the outbreak strain has been found inside the ready-to-eat processed meat products manufactured at Enterprise Foods’ Polokwane production facility, dispelling claims made to the contrary.

“Richard Spoor, a lawyer in South Africa, has filed a $2 billion lawsuit against Tiger Brands. Nearly 70 victims and family members are part of the suit, according to William D. Marler, a Seattle-based food safety lawyer who is a consultant on the case.”

The New York Times reported today that the world’s largest known listeria outbreak has spread throughout South Africa for 15 months, killing 189 people. Health officials believe they have identified the source: bologna.

Since January last year, 982 confirmed cases of listeriosis had been recorded, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in South Africa reported on Thursday. The infection, caused by food that has been contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes, is often lethal.

A cluster of gastroenteritis cases among toddlers in a Johannesburg hospital this January led authorities to the sandwich meat in a day care center’s refrigerator — and in turn, to a meat production facility in the northern city of Polokwane. There, officials said they detected traces of LST6, the listeria strain identified in 91 percent of the outbreak’s cases.

The South African meat processor, Enterprise Foods, issued a recall of some of its processed products in early March. Food safety experts at the World Health Organization plan to review the company’s exports to 15 countries across Africa, many of which lack reliable disease surveillance systems and diagnostic tools. Namibia recently reported one listeriosis case; its link to South Africa’s outbreak is uncertain.

Tiger Brands, the parent company of Enterprise Foods, did not respond to requests for comment.

The highly processed meat, locally called “polony,” is known for its fluorescent artificial color. It is often consumed in low-income communities and sold by street vendors, making distribution difficult to track.

Recall effective, Epi Curve dropping – 982 sick with 189 dead

National Institute of Communicable Diseases reports this morning:

The source of the outbreak has been identified as ready-to-eat processed meat products manufactured at Enterprise Foods’ Polokwane production facility.

The recall of implicated food products was announced on 04 March 2018. However, it is expected that new outbreak-related cases will continue to be reported, for the following reasons:

  • the incubation period of listeriosis can be up to 70 days
  • the implicated food products have a long refrigeration shelf life, and it is possible that despite the recall some products were not removed from retail/home settings, and consumption might occur
  • the possibility of cross-contamination of other types of foods in the retail or home setting 
may result in additional cases

A total of 23 laboratory-confirmed cases are reported since the recall on 04 March 2018. Of 
these 23 cases, 17 persons have been interviewed; ten consumed implicated food products and two had direct contact with recalled food products. All exposures occurred prior to the recall.

Outcome data is now available for 70% (687/982) of cases, of which 28% (189/687) died.

As of 26 March 2018, a total of 982 laboratory-confirmed listeriosis cases have been reported to NICD since 01 January 2017. Most cases have been reported from Gauteng Province (59%, 576/982) followed by Western Cape (12%, 121/982) and KwaZulu-Natal (7%, 71/982) provinces. Cases have been diagnosed in both public (65%, 634/982) and private (35%, 348/982) healthcare sectors. Listeria monocytogenes was most commonly isolated/detected on blood culture (72%, 711/982), followed by CSF (21%, 207/982). Where age was reported (n=943), ages range from birth to 93 years (median 22 years) and 41% (404/982) are neonates aged ≤28 days. Of neonatal cases, 96% (389/404) had early-onset disease (birth to ≤6 days). Females account for 56% (531/950) of cases where gender is reported. Final outcome data is available for 70% (687/982) of cases, of which 28% (189/687) died.

NICD Situation update on listeriosis outbreak South Africa_29 March 2018

The below is the latest recall list of meat products that have tested positive for Listeria.  NOT all have been linked to the Listeria Outbreak that has sickened nearly 1,000 and killed nearly 200.

Pick and Pay

PNP Fresh Black pepper Chicken Roll (4X2.5kg =10kg)
PNP Fresh Garden Herb Chicken Roll (4X2.5kg =10kg)
PNP Fresh Plain Chicken Roll (4X2.5kg =10kg)
PNP Fresh Sweet Chilli Roll (4X2.5kg =10kg)
PNP Fresh Cheese Chicken Roll (4X2.5kg =10kg)
NO NAME IQF PORK BANGER 375GR
NO NAME IQF PORK BANGER 750GR

Rainbow

Fresh Polony 1kg
Simply Chicken Chakalaka Polony 1kg
Simply Cheese Polony 700g
Simply Chicken Original 1kg
Simply Chicken Peri Peri Polony 1kg
Rainbow Simply Chicken Original 750g
Rainbow Simply Chicken Polony Polony 400g
Rainbow IQF Chilli Russians 1kg
Rainbow IQF cheese Russians 850g
Rainbow IQF original Russian 1kg
Farmer Brown cabinet Loaves
Farmer Brown Roast Chicken Loaf 500g
Farmer Brown  Capsicum pepper loaf 500g
Farmer Brown Garlic & herb loaf 500g
Framer Brown Deli loaves
Farmer Brown Capscum Pepper Loaf (4X2.5kg =10kg)
Farmer Brown B Roast Chicken Loaf (4X2.5kg =10kg)
Farmer Brown B Garlic & Herb Chicken Loaf (4X2.5kg =10kg)
Rainbow Simply Chicken Mini Cheese Viennas 240g
Rainbow Simply Chicken Mini Viennas 240g
Rainbow Simply Chicken Viennas assorted 1kg
Rainbow Simply Chicken Viennas assorted 1kg
Rainbow Simply Chicken Viennas 500g
Rainbow Simply Chicken Viennas 500g

Enterprise 

All ready-to eat-processed meat products under the following brands:

Bokkie
Renown
Enterprise Lifestyle Range
Mieliekip

Woolworths 

Wafer thin Chargrilled Ham 125g
Waferthin Roasted Chicken 125g
Waferthin Smoked Ham 125g
Waferthin Cooked Ham 125g
Waferthin Smoked Chicken 125g
500g Smoked Viennas
1kg Smoked Viennas
500g Red Viennas
1kg Red Viennas
375g Cocktail Viennas
125g Smoked Cheesy Viennas 400g
Bulk Salami Sticks 150g
Salami Sticks 85g
Plain Salami Sticks 85g
Spicy Salami Sticks 60g
Plain Salami Bites 150g
Spicy Salami Sticks 85g
Coriander Salami 60g
Spicy Salami Bites 250g
Smoked and Roasted Gammon
Sliced Lean Ham 125g
Sliced Cooked Ham 250g
Sliced Cooked Ham 125g
250g Ham Selection
Assorted Cold Meat 200g
Sliced Salami 100g
Salami 100g
German Salami
100g Sliced Peppered Salami
100g Spicy Salami
125g Country Ham

Shoprite

Farmer’s Deli red viennas, 500g and 1kg and Farmer’s Deli smoked viennas, 500g and 1kg

Snax

All ready-to eat-processed meat products.

Imagine that the phone call comes or an email pops into your inbox – “Sir, we have been contacted by the health authorities and they say our product (polony) has been linked to illnesses and deaths. What do we do?”

So, what do you do?  Lawrence MacDougall received that call.  Now, what has he done and what will he do?

After being involved in every major (and a few minor) food poisoning outbreaks since the Jack in the Box E. coli Outbreak of 1993, I have seen it all. I have seen good CEOs act badly and make their and their company’s problems worse and I have seen bad CEOs handle the outbreak with such aplomb that they become associated with both food safety and good PR.

So, what do you do?

Of course, it is always best to avoid the outbreak to begin with. When I have spoken to CEOs or their Boards–generally, pre-outbreak and pre-lawsuit–I always pitch them on “why it is a bad idea to poison your customers.” Putting safe food as the primary goal–yes, alas, even before profits–will (absent an error) give you a very, very good chance of never seeing me on the other side of a courtroom.

But, what if despite your best efforts, or what if you simply did not care, and an outbreak happens.

So, what do you do?

First, have a pre-existing relationship with the folks that regulate you. If someone holds your business in the palm of his or her hand, you should at least be on a first name basis. No, I am not suggesting that you can influence your way out of the outbreak but knowing who is telling you that your company has a problem allows you the ability to get and understand the facts. Do regulators and their investigators make mistakes? Perhaps, but not very often and not often enough to waste time arguing that your company did not poison customers.

Second, stop production of the implicated product and initiate a recall of all products at risk immediately. This procedure should have been practiced, and practiced, and practiced before. All possibly implicated suppliers should be alerted and all retailers should be offered assistance. Consumers need to be engaged too.  The goal now is to get poisoned product out of the marketplace and certainly out of the homes of consumers.

Third, launch your own investigation with two approaches, and at the same time. Are the regulators correct? And, what went wrong? Tell everyone to save all documents and electronic data. The goal here is to get things right. If it really is not your product, what has happened is bad, but survivable. If it really was your product, then learning what happened helps make sure it is likely to never happen again. More than anything, be transparent. Tell everyone what you find–good or bad.

According to the South African Minister of Public Health, Minister of Health Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi:

Listeria monocytogenes was isolated from stool collected from one of the ill children, and from both of the polony specimens collected from the crèche. These isolates were sent to the NICD Centre for Enteric Diseases and underwent whole genome sequencing and genomic analysis. The ST6 sequence type was confirmed on all three isolates on Saturday 27th January. Remember that in the last press conference I informed you that from clinical isolates obtained from patients (patient blood), 9 sequence types of Listeria monocytogenes were isolated and 91% were of sequence type 6 (ST6). We had then concluded that time that this outbreak is driven by ST6.

Following the lead from the tests performed on these children from Soweto and the food they had ingested, the EHPs (Environmental Health Practitioners), together with the NICD and DAFF representatives, accompanied by 3 technical advisors from the World Health Organization in Geneva, visited a food-production site in Polokwane and conducted an extensive food product and environmental sampling.

Listeria monocytogenes was isolated from over 30% of the environmental samples collected from this site, which happens to be the Enterprise factory in Polokwane.

To conclude the investigation, whole genome sequencing analysis was performed from this Enterprise factory and the results became available midnight or last night. The outbreak strain, ST6, was confirmed in at least 16 environmental samples collected from this Enterprise facility.

THE CONCLUSION FROM THIS IS THAT THE SOURCE OF THE PRESENT OUTBREAK CAN BE CONFIRMED TO BE THE ENTERPRISE FOOD-PRODUCTION FACILITY IN POLOKWANE

As of the March 14, 2018 update of Listeria monocytogenes Outbreak from the Centre for Enteric Diseases (CED) and Division of Public Health Surveillance and Response, Outbreak Response Unit (ORU), National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD)/National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS), a total of 978 cases has been reported since 2017. Since the last situational update (8 March 2018), 11 additional cases have been reported to the NICD. The death total remained at 183.Given the above work by NICD and the fact that the number of ill is failing post-recall, Tiger Brands – Enterprise has nothing to argue about the source of the outbreak.

Fourth, assuming that the outbreak is in fact your fault, publicly admit it. If it is not your fault, then fight it. However, pretending that you are innocent when you are actually at fault will get you nowhere. Asking for forgiveness is not a bad thing when you have something to be forgiven for. Saying you are sorry is not wrong when you are in fact wrong.

Mr. MacDougall, given the facts saying this was both heartless and stupid: “There is no direct link with the deaths to our products that we are aware of at this point. Nothing.”

Fifth, do not blame your customers.  If your food has a pathogen it is not your customers responsibility to handle it like it will likely kill them or a member of their family.  Hoping that the consumer will fix your mistake takes your eye off of avoiding the mistake in the first place.

Sixth, reach out to your customers and consumers who have been harmed. Offering to pay legitimate losses will save money and your company’s reputation in the long run.  The public with give you credit and it will be a reduction from the future award during litigation.

Seventh, teach all what you have learned. Do not hide what you have learned. Make your knowledge freely available so we all limit the risk that something similar will happen again.

Mr. MacDougall, I will match you personally 1,000,000 Rand to donate to an Organization or University in South Africa to lead a review of both food processing standards and governmental regulations and oversight.  I will help find experts from around the world to assist.

Yes, you can do all of the above and still get sued. And, I might be the one to sue you, and in Mr. MacDougall’s case I am. Yet, companies who have followed the above find their passage through an outbreak, recall, and litigation temporary. The companies that struggle for unfounded reasons will seldom exist in the long run, or they will simply pay my clients more money.

Bill Marler is trial lawyer who spends a great deal of time trying to convince companies around the world why it is a bad idea to poison customers. Twitter @bmarler and Blog at www.marlerblog.com

Black First Land First, which laid murder charges against the corporations at the Hillbrow Police Station, said heads had to roll.

Leader of Black First Land First Andile Mngxitama (BLF) believes the listeriosis outbreak that has claimed as many as 180 lives amid about 1,000 confirmed infections can be categorized as “murder”.

He tweeted on Monday morning that his organization would lay murder charges against Tiger Brands, Enterprise Foods and Rainbow Chicken, which he says has links to business magnate Johann Rupert.

He claims Enterprise was complicit in a corporate cover-up and should be treated as party to murder. He described their alleged actions as “premeditated murder for profits”.

Sounds somewhat familiar?

 

South Africa’s biggest consumer foods maker, Tiger Brands, has recalled products produced by its Enterprise unit after the government traced the source of a listeria outbreak that has killed almost 180 people and sickened nearly 1,000 to its Enterprise manufacturing facility. Tiger Brands said it has suspended operations at both Enterprise manufacturing facilities in Polokwane and Germiston.

South Africa’s laws governing products liability closely parallel those found in many US jurisdictions. While the country has long-recognized that a manufacturer of unfit food can be held civilly liable in negligence, legislation introduced almost decade ago codified strict products liability principles applicable to every entity in a product’s supply chain. Further, South Africa also holds entities in a supply chain criminally liable for making contaminated or unfit food available to consumers.

Prior to enacting legislation in the early 2000’s, South African manufacturers of food could be held civilly liable under principles similar to those common in US tort law. Specifically, claimants alleging injury caused by unfit food could demonstrate that an entity was negligent in its manufacture of the product. The Muzik v. Cansone Del Mare case is a well-known example of a food-poisoning litigation where the court found in favor of a victim claiming a restaurant’s negligent preparation and service of seafood caused his serious injuries. The restaurant, Cansone Del Mare, served Muzik contaminated mussels which made him severely ill and led to his hospitalization. He subsequently sued the restaurant, and was awarded damages including his medical bills, lost wages, and loss of enjoyment of life because his fear of being poisoned again prevented him from enjoying a previously-loved food.

A few years after Muzik, South Africa provided foodborne illness claimants a powerful avenue of recovery when it enacted the Consumer Protection Act No. 68 of 2006 (CPA). Section 61 of the CPA establishes broad strict liability principles, specifically holding everyone in the supply chain of a product—manufacturers, importers, distributors, and retailers—liable for any harm their product causes, irrespective of whether or not they behaved negligently. The elements of strict products liability in South Africa is near-identical to the burden in the US: a claimant need only prove that their injury or illness was caused by (1) the supply of an unsafe product, (2) a product failure, defect, or hazard in the product, or (3) inadequate instructions or warnings. 61(1)(a)—(c).[1]

If a claimant prevails in demonstrating her burden, the responsible parties are held jointly and severally liable for, “the death of, or injury to, any natural person; an illness of any natural person…and any economic loss that results from,” that death, injury, or illness. 61(5)(a)—(d). While initially appearing to be broad-sweeping legislation, Section 61 may also limit the liability of so-called “passive retailers”—entities who merely obtain pre-prepared food to sell to consumers. The relevant language bars liability if, “it is unreasonable to expect the distributor or retailer to have discovered that the unsafe product characteristic, failure, defect or hazard, having regard to that person’s role in marketing the goods to consumers.” 61(4)(c).

Finally, despite its many similarities to US product liability laws, South Africa also holds entities criminally liable for making contaminated or unfit food available to the public. The Food, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act 54 of 1972 makes it a criminal offense for any person to, “sell[], manufacture[] or import for sale, any foodstuff which is contaminated, impure or decayed, or is, in terms of any regulation deemed to be harmful or injurious to human health.” (2)(1)(b)(i). If the criminal offense is committed by an employee of a food service establishment, such liability attaches to the employer unless he can demonstrate that he took all reasonable measures to prevent the act or omission that led to the offense. (8)(1).[2]

__________

[1]           Section 53 of the CPA defines a “defect” as, “(i) any material imperfection in the manufacture of the goods or components, or in performance of the services, that renders the goods or results of the service less acceptable than persons generally would be reasonably entitled to expect in the circumstances; or (ii) any characteristic of the goods or components that renders the goods or components less useful, practicable or safe than persons generally would be reasonably entitled to expect in the circumstances.”

[2]           Simply forbidding the particular act or omission is insufficient to avoid liability. (8)(2).

I am heading to South Africa Tuesday morning – a 24 hour flight – to speak at a Listeria Conference on Thursday.

South Africa’s biggest consumer foods maker, Tiger Brands, has recalled products produced by its Enterprise unit after the government traced the source of a listeria outbreak that has killed almost 180 people and sickened nearly 1,000 to its Enterprise manufacturing facility. Tiger Brands said it has suspended operations at both Enterprise manufacturing facilities in Polokwane and Germiston.

Tiger Brands has asked consumers to remove any Enterprise ready-to-eat meat products from their fridges and place in a plastic bag – away from other foods. Tiger Brands, which owns Enterprise Foods, confirmed that Enterprise was undertaking a full national recall on all its ready-to-eat meat products.

This comes after Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi announced on Sunday that processed food manufacturers Enterprise and Rainbow Chicken Limited (RCL) have been issued with safety recall notices following the listeriosis outbreak in South Africa.

According to the Centre for Enteric Diseases (CED) and Division of Public Health Surveillance and Response, Outbreak Response Unit (ORU), and National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD)/ National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS), as of February 27, 2018, a total of 945 cases have been reported since 1 January 2017, with 30 additional cases recorded since the last update , February 20, 2018.  To date, 743 cases were reported in 2017, and 202 cases in 2018. Females account for 55% (516/943) cases where gender is reported. Where age was reported (n=909), ages range from birth to 92 years (median 19 years) and 41% (377/902) are neonates aged ≤28 days (Figure 2). Of neonatal cases, 94% (355/377) had early-onset disease (birth to ≤6 days). Most cases have been reported from Gauteng Province (59%, 555/945) followed by Western Cape (12%, 116/945) and KwaZulu-Natal (7%, 66/945) provinces. Outcome at the end of hospitalization is known for an additional 18 cases, bringing the total with known outcome to 635/945 (67%) patients. 176 (19%) patients are known to have died.