Listeria outbreak in South Africa

recalled sausages

Listeria outbreak in South Africa

South Africa’s Listeria tragedy: Nigeria’s wake-up call

Beating world records is exciting but certainly not when it has to do with having the worst outbreak of a food-borne illness in history. The recent outbreak of Listeria in South Africa holds many lessons and warnings for Nigeria.

The 14-month long outbreak, which affected almost 1000 people and led to the death of at least 183, has been labelled by the United Nation’s World Health Organization as the largest ever recorded globally.

When it comes to food-borne infections that can be contracted through the consumption or handling of ready-to-eat (RTE) meats, listeriosis is at the top of the charts. Initially, Listeria causes flu-like symptoms such as fever, muscle aches, nausea and diarrhoea but when the bacterium gets into the nervous system‚ symptoms become meningitis-like‚ including severe headache‚ sore neck‚ convulsions‚ confusion and loss of balance. Death, of course, is a big possibility.

Here are some facts about listeriosis direct from the website of World Health Organiation (WHO)

Key facts

  • Listeriosis is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes.
  • Listeria monocytogenesare widely distributed in nature. They can be found in soil, water, vegetation and the faeces of some animals and can contaminate foods.
  • High risk foods include deli meat and ready-to-eat meat products (such as cooked, cured and/or fermented meats and sausages), soft cheeses and cold smoked fishery products.
  • Pregnant women, the elderly or individuals with a weakened immune system, such as people with immuno-compromised status due to HIV/AIDS, leukaemia, cancer, kidney transplant and steroid therapy, are at greatest risk of severe listeriosis and should avoid high risk foods.
  • Listeriosis is a serious, but preventable and treatable disease.

Source: The Bioexpert

After one year of dealing with serious morbidity and mortality, South African government was able to link the outbreak to cold meats, particularly meat product known as “polony” made by Tiger’s Enterprise Food and Rainbow Chicken Limited, in Polokwane, South Africa. This was after it had caused great tragedy to several families.

WHO warns Nigeria and other African countries

Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe were the countries that received warnings from WHO about the spread of the killer food borne disease.

Already, some South African neighbours including Namibia, Mozambique, Malawi, Botswana and Zambia have ordered the suspension of importation of processed meat into their countries. Zambia seems to understand the food safety risk better as they banned imports of not only South African processed meats but also the import of other food items such as dairy products, vegetables and fruits.

No more permit for meat importers-NAQS

Following the listeria outbreak in South Africa, Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS) says it will henceforth refuse import permit for any intending importer of meat into the country. The Coordinating Director of NAQS, Dr. Vincent Isegbe, also stated that the service is on the watch and will confiscate any illegally imported meat. How this plays out between NAQS and importers remains to be seen. Remember the ban on importation of frozen chicken?

In his words,

‘‘No one intending to import meat can get the import permit and any illegal importation of meat shall be confiscated by Quarantine. That is the law.‘‘In the 2017 budget being implemented, we have so many surveys in place to ensure food safety, especially of exportable agro-commodities,’’

NAFDAC issues public alert on listeriosis outbreak in South Africa

The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) issued an alert on the outbreak of listeriosis in South Africa.

NAFDAC warns that since laboratory investigation already established that the source of the outbreak was ready-to-eat processed meat products – polony, Vienna sausages and other “cold meat” manufactured by Enterprise Corporation Food Facility and Rainbow Chicken Limited in Polokwane, South Africa, importers should desist from importing processed meat products produced by the companies.

Nigerians should note that the safety recall notices issued by the Consumer Protection Act of South Africa on 4th March, 2018 to manufacturers of these products include the manufacturers’ entire distribution network, both domestic and international. This was because Listeria was isolated at the plants. Therefore, if your grocery list includes any imported cold meat, you may have to scrap it for now.

I really do hope that NAFDAC’s effort to prevent importation and sales of contaminated processed meat products produced by the aforementioned companies will yield good results.

Challenges to the Nigerian consumer

Generally, Nigerians are lovers of fresh meat, naturally preferring it to the processed and packaged variants.

Over the years, however, the average Nigerian has become an international food consumer, with growing love for pot-ready and ready to eat meats. It is commonplace now to find sausages in a pupil’s lunch box. Our supermarket freezers are filled with  cold cuts which make meal preparation and dining easy.

Now that consumers can no longer have free access to imported cold meats, what are the alternatives?

A number of local industries now offer processed meat products and this is a good time to embrace them. It is a good time to encourage local production by patronizing our own.

Nigeria’s wake-up call

In the interest of consumers, all manufacturers of meat products in Nigeria should embrace traceability and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) in their plants. HACCP is a food safety system that needs to take root in Nigeria to prevent devastating outbreaks of this nature. We also need to establish a comprehensive surveillance system for food –borne pathogens.

How would we have fared if this were to occur in Nigeria? Thanks to the rapid response that allowed us win the war against Ebola recently, the citizens have a level of trust in the Federal Government when it comes to cross-border disease outbreaks.

South Africa was not prepared for a food safety outbreak of such magnitude. Hence in a country of about 55 million, over 180 precious lives were lost, many of them children. What is Nigeria doing to prevent such food safety catastrophe? This is supposed to be a wake-up call to authorities regulating food safety in Nigeria. It does not have to happen to us before we start enforcing the law. Wake up, Nigeria!

Kunbi Omotoso

Promoting safe food choices in Nigeria

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