Foodborne Pathogens and Disease – http://doi.org/10.1089/fpd.2018.2586
In South Africa, a progressive increase in listeriosis cases was noted from mid-June 2017, heralding what was to become the world’s largest listeriosis outbreak. A total of 1060 cases were reported for the period January 1, 2017 to July 17, 2018. We describe laboratory activities, experiences, and results of whole-genome sequencing (WGS) analysis of Listeria monocytogenes isolates associated with this outbreak. Bacteria were identified using the VITEK-2 COMPACT 15 microbial identification system. WGS was performed using Illumina MiSeq technology. WGS data were analyzed using CLC Genomics Workbench Software and free-to-use on-line analysis tools/pipelines. Multilocus sequence typing (MLST) showed that 91% of clinical isolates were sequence type 6 (ST6), determining that the outbreak was largely associated with L. monocytogenes ST6. Epidemiological and laboratory findings led to investigation of a large ready-to-eat processed meat production facility in South Africa, named Enterprise Foods. L. monocytogenes ST6 was found in environmental sampling swabs of the production facility and in ready-to-eat processed meat products (including polony, a product similar to bologna sausage) manufactured at the facility. ST6 isolates, sourced at the Enterprise Foods [Tiger Brands] production facility and from Enterprise food products, were shown by single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) analysis to be highly related to clinical isolates; these nonclinical ST6 isolates showed <10 SNP differences when compared to clinical ST6 isolates. Core-genome MLST showed that clinical ST6 isolates and Enterprise-related ST6 isolates had no more than 4 allele differences between each other, suggestive of a high probability of epidemiological relatedness. WGS data interpreted together with epidemiological data concluded that the source of the listeriosis outbreak was ready-to-eat processed meat products manufactured by Enterprise Foods. Listeriosis has now been added to the South African list of mandatory notifiable medical conditions. Surveillance systems have been strengthened to facilitate prevention and early detection of listeriosis outbreaks.