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. Picture: Karen Sandison/African News Agency/ANA

For many South Africans polony has been a food of choice, particularly when it comes to lunch box ideas. Not only is this cold meat affordable, but it is considered as a convenient and versatile ready-to-eat source of protein.

But this week  polony has been a source of controversy and probably the most-talked about food item after it was linked to a deadly disease, listeriosis. 
So far about 180 South Africans have since died and almost 1000 infected, following the outbreak of listeriosis since January last year.

This week the nation went into a "panic mode" after the Minister of Health, Aaron Motsoaledi, announced that Enterprise Polokwane factory plant, which makes Enterprise polony and Rainbow chicken polony, was identified as a source of the listeria (listeriosis-causing bacteria).

More than 16 environmental samples from the factory tested positive for the listeriosis monocytogenes strain ST 6. The results from the factory were confirmed at midnight on Saturday at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases as the strain to blame for the outbreak that killed 27% of patients in South Africa.This resulted in Motsoaledi calling for the avoidance of all ready-to-eat processed meat products.

Following the announcement major retailers had since removed these meat products off the shelves.

Apart from safety fears and sarcastic jokes about polony this week, many South Africans have genuinely expressed curiosity as to what goes into the manufacturing of polony.

We've asked a number of experts on what exactly goes into cold meats, how nutritious are they, and are there any health risks to those who consume processed cold meats, including polony?

Princess Blom - a Cape Town food technologist said common ingredients of cold meats are offcuts of chicken, beef and pork, starch, water, salt (which is used as a preservative), soya, wheat and colourants to mask off the different colours of different meats used. 

"These products are combined and added in one bowl of emulsifiers , spices and water to combine into a paste-like product. Extrusions machines are used to press the product into a paste and rolled into a  casing (in a case of russians and viennas). 

Blom warned that because cold meats were ready to eat products, they were 'high risk' to manufacture as they were prone to hosting bacteria.
"The manufacturing process involves handling from one machine or hand to the next therefore any unclean or contaminated items may come into contact with the product at any time. Poor hygiene practices pose high risks of bacterial growth in the food products," she said.

Bloem said was important to thoroughly cook any meat products and prepare them in clean environments...even if it's not processed meats.
Irene Labuschagne, a dietitian  from Nutrition Information Centre Stellenbosch University (Nicus) said while meat is an important food for human nutrition due to high quality protein and essential micronutrients it provides such as iron, zinc and vitamin B12 - on the other hand the high intake of red and processed meats - has been linked to diseases such as diabetes and colon cancer.

In a study  on American Heart Association Journal titled Circulation: Heart Failure - Swiss researchers said that men who eat a lot of bacon, ham and sausages could be damaging their hearts and heading for an early grave.

A large study of more than 37,000 men found that processed meat significantly increases the risk of death from heart failure.

Those consuming the most − 75 grams per day or more − were twice as likely to die from heart failure than those who ate 25 grams or less.
 Dr Kgomotso Mogapi from KwaMqemane Lifestyle and Wellness Centre in Pietermaritzburg says while strong immune system can deal with Listeriosis, due to the fact that most people eat things that destroys their immune systems people end up succumbing  to it. 

Mogapi said processed meat was classified as carcinogenic to humans by World Health Organisation in 2015. 

“For that reason, people should have stopped eating these things years ago,” says Mogap.