Listeria hysteria in South Africa

My wife and I were discussing this morning the horror that is occurring in South Africa regarding the Listeria outbreak. My wife is a professional dancer for an African modern dance group-NAfro in Winnipeg (Canada) and very interested in African culture. I have had the pleasure of speaking with her choreographer a number of times regarding issues in Africa (his home) which are primarily political in nature. Interesting stuff.
The World Health Organization has sent a food safety expert to South Africa to assist in identifying the cause of the Listeria outbreak. Apparently, it has been recommended that South Africa should have approximately 5000 environmental health practitioners; currently they only have 2000 to safeguard public health, clearly not enough.

Wendy Knowler of Times Live reports

Would you be able to list every single thing you’ve eaten in the past month?
That’s what victims of South Africa’s massive listeriosis outbreak – the biggest on record globally – are being asked to do by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) in an attempt to pinpoint the source.
The number of confirmed listeriosis cases is now 872, and 164 of those have died – up from 107 last week. The current mortality rate is a staggering 27%.
Of those confirmed cases, 43% were babies of less than a month old – pregnant women being 20 times more likely to get listeriosis than other healthy adults.
Contracted by eating food containing the listeria pathogen, listeriosis is by far the most deadly of food-borne diseases. Given the scale of our mystery outbreak, it has led to what one delegate termed “listeria hysteria”, at a listeriosis workshop hosted by the South African Association of Food Science and Technology (SAAFoST) in Johannesburg on Wednesday.
While patés, soft cheeses and guacamole have been found to be the source in listeriosis outbreaks in other countries, our outbreak is unlikely to be a “high-end luxury food item”, said the NICD’s Dr Juno Thomas at the workshop.
“So far, our epidemiological investigation team has interviewed about 60 listeriosis victims to find out what they ate, day by day, during the month before they became symptomatic, in an attempt to identify patterns of consumption and indicate what we can eliminate,” Thomas said. “None had eaten smoked fish, for example.”
Food safety expert and SAAFoST president Lucia Anelich said given that a single, unique “homegrown” strain of listeriosis was identified in more than 90% of the confirmed cases, it was likely that the source was a single food product or range of food products consumed often and by both rich and poor across South Africa.
“Cold meats, for example, range from viennas and polony to more expensive slices of ham,” she said.
As listeria is killed during the cooking process, the culprit is thought to be a ready-to-eat food, fruit, or vegetables.
Attorney Janus Luterek told workshop delegates that his work had led him to believe that the offending product would be traced back to irrigation water that was not properly treated. A few food scientists in the room agreed with him.
“Keep your insurance up to date,” Luterek told the attending food producers, “because when the claims come they will be huge, as in a Boeing 737 crashing and everyone on board dying.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has sent a food safety expert, an epidemiologist with listeriosis experience and a communication specialist to South Africa to help identify the source of the outbreak.
A WHO spokesman was quoted in industry publications this week as saying the body was working on a “strong lead”, with laboratory results pending.
Speaking at the workshop, Dr Thomas said food safety legislation was fragmented, outdated and inappropriate for South Africa.
“We need a dramatic overhaul of our legislation and the entire food safety system,” she said.
For example, she said, there were fewer than 2,000 environmental health practitioners, responsible for monitoring all food outlets from restaurants to informal vendors, but the WHO recommended that South Africa needed 5,000 of them.
Several presenters mentioned the need for better cooperation between the government departments and organisations responsible for food safety – including health; agriculture, forestry and fisheries; trade and industry; and the Consumer Goods Council.


107 dead, 852 sick from Listeria in South Africa: Suspects unknown

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), in Johannesburg, South Africa, reported 107 case patients have died from Listeria monocytogenes.

The agency, which is a division of the National Health Dept., said 852 listeriosis cases were confirmed between Jan. 1, 2017 and Feb. 5,2018, but so far, the source of the outbreak is not known. “Presently no food sources that are contaminated with the outbreak strain have been found, including amongst poultry and poultry products,” the agency said in a statement.

61 dead from listeriosis in South Africa as fatalities double in a month

Wendy Knowler of Business Day reports the death toll from the listeriosis outbreak plaguing SA has nearly doubled in the past month, to 61 from 36, as SA grapples with an outbreak that experts say is the worst on record, worldwide.

The origin of the outbreak remains a mystery, though researchers have confirmed it probably has a single source.

Nonetheless, a Sovereign Foods abattoir has been closed, after listeria bacteria were found there.

Sovereign Foods, which is based in the Eastern Cape‚ is one of the major poultry producers in Africa. The company delisted from the JSE on November 22, concluding a management buyout funded by private equity firm Capitalworks.

But Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said the strain found at the abattoir was not the ST6 strain responsible for the deadly outbreak.

He told a briefing in Pretoria on Monday that a chicken sample collected from the fridge at a patient’s home tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes.

This chicken was traced back to the store and then traced back to the abattoir. It was sourced from Sovereign Foods‚ he said.

However‚ all samples collected from the abattoir have so far failed to pick up the ST6 strain of the outbreak that the country is experiencing.

As a consequence‚ authorities cannot yet link clinical isolates obtained from patients to particular foodstuffs or a food production site.

Motsoaledi said that the number of cases of listeriosis confirmed via lab testing had increased from 557 in early December to 727 at the latest count.

Food scientists are now calling it the worst documented listeriosis outbreak in global history.

The minister said 91% of the isolates were ST6 type isolates, a finding that supported the hypothesis that a single source of food contamination may have caused the outbreak from one or more food products at a single facility.

Dr Lucia Anelich‚ a prominent South African food microbiologist and food safety expert, said “I concur with my colleagues from business‚ academia and governments‚ in Europe‚ Australia‚ Canada and the US‚ that this is the worst documented listeriosis outbreak in global history.”

647 sick, 60 dead from Listeria in South Africa

As of 19 December 2017, a total of 647 laboratory-confirmed listeriosis cases have been reported to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) since 01 January 2017.

Diagnosis was based most commonly on the isolation of Listeria monocytogenes in blood culture (71%, 459/647), followed by CSF (24%, 156/647). Where age was reported (n=620), ages range from birth to 93 years (median 26 years) and 39% (241/620) are neonates aged ≤28 days . Of neonatal cases, 96% (232/241) had early-onset disease (birth to ≤6 days). Females account for 55% (341/623) of cases where gender is reported.

As of 19 December 2017, case investigation forms (CIFs) of variable completeness have been received for 229 (35%) cases. Apart from neonates (≤28 days) and the elderly (>65 years), additional risk factors for listeriosis reported include pregnancy (11/47 females aged 15-49 years) and HIV infection status. In non-neonatal cases where HIV status was known (n=117), 37% (43/117) were HIV positive. Maternal HIV status is known for 57 neonatal cases, of which 22/57 (38%) were HIV positive. Final outcome data is available for 20% (131/640) of cases, of which 46% (60/131) died.

To date, whole genome sequencing has been performed on 206 clinical L. monocytogenes isolates. Fifteen sequence types (STs) have been identified; however, 74% (153/206) belong to a single ST (ST6). Isolates in this ST6 cluster are very closely related, showing <20 single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) differences. This suggests that most cases in this outbreak have had exposure to a widely available, common food type/source

Clinical listeriosis management guidelines are available on the website ( Where clinicians suspect listeriosis but specimens (including CSF and blood) are culture negative, a polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based test can be performed at the NICD.

Whole genome sequencing is being performed on all clinical isolates and food/environmental isolates received from the NHLS Infection Control Laboratory in Johannesburg.


36 dead, 557 sick in Listeria outbreak in South Africa

At a media briefing in Pretoria on Tuesday, South African Minister of Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi announced that since January 1, 2017 up until November 29, 557 laboratory confirmed cases have been reported.

Of the 557 cases, the department of health has found the final outcome of 70 confirmed cases of listeriosis.

“Of these 70 cases, 36 persons have perished,” said Motsoaledi.

The source of the outbreak is currently being investigated, but Motsoaledi said it’s believe that this particular outbreak is from a food source that is being consumed by both the rich and the poor, and the contamination points may well be farms and food processing plants.

Over 1000 sickened with links to South African dairy

Malibongwe Dayimani of Dispatch Live reports a King William’s Town dairy that supplied a number of schools in the area with fermented milk, or amasi, was last week ordered to close.

161102dairy01maInnesfree Agriculture and Dairy was identified as a supplier of amasi to a number of schools in the area where over 1000 pupils from 12 schools fell sick after eating amasi and pap.

The dairy was told to shut after Buffalo City Metro’s health services found it to be in contravention of regulations relating to the sale of milk and dairy products which state that the selling of raw milk and raw sour milk for human consumption is prohibited.

In the compliance notice, which is in the Daily Dispatch’s possession, Innesfree was ordered to stop selling dairy products with immediate effect and dispose of any raw milk or raw sour milk.

Innesfree owner Sherene Fourie accused the provincial government of being on a “witch-hunt” and said she was being targeted unfairly.

Fourie said “most” of the schools where pupils fell ill were not on the list of schools supplied by her dairy.

Fourie said health inspectors were wrong to point fingers at her because schools and individual buyers fetched milk from her shop using their own containers. “Did they go to the schools to check if the containers were sterilised? Or whether the food they cook at school was prepared in a proper manner?”

Fourie said some schools bought milk from her and stored it in their own tanks and nobody knew if those tanks were sterilised.

There were hundreds of dairies in the province selling raw milk, she added. “I would like to know, am I the only one who is shut down or are they planning to shut down other businesses?”

Last week 1056 pupils from 11 schools were treated for diarrhoea in three provincial hospitals after eating sour milk and pap offered by the national school nutrition programme.

South Africa doesn’t have capacity to forecast, track a foodborne disease

A University of Pretoria (UP) food safety expert warns South Africa does not have adequate capacity to forecast and track a foodborne disease.

140818supermarket-jpgProfessor Lise Korsten has told a parliamentary workshop food safety is compromised due to a lack of integrated regulation.

Korsten says providing quality produce to poor communities remains the biggest challenge to food security.

She adds that the lack of an independent regulatory body to ensure food safety further compounds concern around the level of toxins in some food.

Korsten says while several policies have been drafted, no integrated system exists to curb foodborne diseases.

She adds industry and government need to be transparent and accountable regarding food certification.

Always cameras: South Africa KFC branch shuts after images go viral

Fast food franchise KFC has announced its store in Braamfontein has been closed until further notice after images of staff “washing chickens” on a dirty floor surfaced on social media this week.

kfc.wash.chickenA Facebook user posted images of what appeared to be KFC staff in Braamfontein allegedly taking chicken pieces out of containers, placing them on a concrete floor and hosing them down.

The person who posted the images, Mfumo Bamuza, received them from an anonymous Joburg resident who took them from the balcony of his Clifton Heights flat in Braamfontein.

In the two images, staff can be seen using a hose to spray a large volume of water on to the uncooked chicken pieces.

In one image, blood and water can be seen streaming across the floor.

Bamuza captioned the picture: “KFC Braamfontein comrades!!! This is how they wash your meat. On the ground!!!!! Photocred goes to a south point (Clifton Heights) resident. #knowwhatyoueat.”

Over 200 South African students examined for food poisoning

Some pupils were vomiting and others complained of abdominal pains, said spokesman Macks Lesufi in an e-mail.

vomit.toiletHe said at least 100 pupils were examined, treated, and released at Jane Furse hospital on Monday, while three of them were admitted.

Another 133 pupils were taken for examination to St Ritas hospital on the same day. Two of them were admitted.

Another eight pupils were taken to St Ritas on Tuesday, and one of them was admitted.

Lesufi said the three admitted to this hospital had since been discharged.

He could not confirm reports that shards of glass had been found in food eaten by the children.

Basic education department spokesman Elijah Mhlanga could not immediately be reached for comment.

Earlier, The Star reported that 275 pupils at Makeke Primary School were taken to hospital on Monday after eating food that contained pieces of glass.

150 South African students hospitalized after glass found in food

Hungry Limpopo school children are the unsuspecting victims of an alleged tender war between food suppliers, according to reports. Monday more than 150 pupils from Kwena Tshwena Primary School in Ridgefontein were rushed to hospital after crushed glass was alleged found in their food, eNCA reported.

According an unnamed staff member the children received food from the school’s feeding scheme and by the afternoon a group of pupils were sent to hospital after complaining of stomach cramps and vomiting.

The staffer told eNCA that by Monday evening over 150 pupils were admitted to hospital.

Thabo Mogoaneng, an uncle of one of the children, told the news channel that it was not the first time such an incident had occurred.

Mogoaneng claimed that the poisoning and crushed bottles found in food were a result of the ongoing tender war between food suppliers.

The latest incident is the third one reported in Limpopo in as many months.