A shopper walks pass empty shelves after Entreprise and Rainbow Chicken Limited ready to eat processed meat products were recalled due to the listeriosis outbreak. Picture Cindy Waxa/African News Agency (ANA)
Leading experts in the area of food safety, including an American law firm, have been brought on board as part of a team that will institute a class-action lawsuit on behalf of hundreds of listeriosis victims.

Attorney Richard Spoor of Richard Spoor Incorporated Attorneys confirmed yesterday that his firm has partnered with US firm Marler Clark and will be engaging the services of other experts in the field as it prepares to bring class action proceedings against Tiger Brands.

Products from the Tiger Brands Enterprise food processing factory in Polokwane were identified as a source of the ST6 outbreak strain of Listeria bacteria, which was also found in some of the victims.

On its website, Marler Clark said its listeriosis lawyers have “unmatched experience” in representing victims with listeriosis, while human rights lawyer Richard Spoor and his team have represented victims of silicosis in a class action case against some of the country’s gold mines.

Spoor said the listeriosis outbreak, which has claimed 180 lives so far and affected over a thousand people, was the largest epidemic of its kind.

“When somebody sells food to people that is not safe to eat, such is actionable in law. With 180 people dead, this is not business as usual. 

“This is bigger than Life Esidimeni (deaths).” 

Spoor added that there was a potential for there to be more deaths as the incubation rate could be anything between three and 70 days after exposure.

He said while “theoretically” supermarkets that sold these products could also be part of the claim, it was not good to “create any unnecessary complexities” in the matter.

Spoor and his team will also rely on the findings of the investigation from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) which traced the outbreak to the Enterprise food products.

“The NICD did a fantastic job, it is world class. Their findings were rational and we are satisfied about them. It is very good work that we feel strongly about,” he said.

The findings revealed that the strain of listeriosisListeria found in some of the products from the Polokwane food processing plant was genetically identical to that found in some of the victims of listeriosis.

“That kind of genetic sequencing is incredibly sophisticated and it is rock solid. This is as good as a fingerprint,” said Spoor.

He said that while not every victim may have been tested for this strain, his team will have to prove things on a balance of probabilities.

He said in cases like this, class action makes sense as most of the claims may be too small to warrant individual litigation.

Apart from those who died, some had suffered serious injuries, said Spoor, citing an example of a woman who got infected with the bacteria while pregnant and later gave birth to a child with listeriosis and permanent neurological disorder.

“You are talking about a very significant claim and liability here,” Spoor said.

Regarding the class action, Tiger Brands spokesperson Nevashnee Naicker said the company “confirms that it has not received any notification to date”.

Meanwhile forensic investigator and anti-corruption crusader Paul O’Sullivan is this morning expected to unveil plans for the course of action he will take against some of the companies implicated in the listeriosis outbreak. 

Reports emerged yesterday that O’Sullivan will be laying murder and attempted murder charges against a multinational company.

Yesterday he said “unfortunately the information should not have been out there, but there will be a briefing at 9am where all the information will be shared”.