Cape Town - The listeriosis outbreak has not deterred some Cape Town retailers from continuing to sell food products similar to those implicated in at least 183 deaths across South Africa, as their suppliers have not advised them to remove the items. The Department of Health issued a recall notice of processed meat products last Sunday after the killer bacterium was traced to Enterprise factories in Polokwane and Germiston and advised the public to avoid all processed meat products that were sold as ready-to-eat.
The department said that while polony was definitely implicated, there was a risk of cross-contamination of other ready-to-eat processed meat products, either at production, distribution or retail.
This was because listeria on the exterior casing of polony could be transferred to other products it comes into contact with, including viennas, Russians, frankfurters, other sausages and other “cold meat” products that are typically not cooked before eating.
A human rights lawyer plans to launch a class action lawsuit against South African food producer Tiger Brands on behalf of the families of people who died and those affected by the listeria outbreak.
The planned class action is being prepared by Richard Spoor, who has spearheaded legal action against gold producers over the fatal lung disease silicosis for which the companies have made R5 billion in provisions.
“I expect to launch it in two to three weeks,” Spoor told Reuters.
Major retailers have removed products from their shelves following the recall, but other small businesses claimed their products were safe to eat as they were “not from the implicated manufacturers”, Enterprise and Rainbow.
In Wynberg, an owner of three businesses that continues to sell viennas and other ready-to-eat meat products said their supplier, Britos, had not advised them not to.
Delores Melim said the business had, however, taken a knock over the past few days as there was a decline in the demand for those products.
“People are aware of the recall. We queried with our suppliers and we were told that the products were safe to eat. But customers are clever, they’re not buying. We’ve not discarded any products yet. The stock is sitting there, but it’s in small quantities. This week, I didn’t place any orders,” she said.
Melim said she would now assess the situation and her decision on the products would be guided by the customers.
Atlantic Meat, which has several stores across the city, put up a notice inside the Wynberg store and on the shelves, informing customers that their products were safe to eat as they were not from the implicated factories.
According to food technologist for Anchor Foods, which supplies Atlantic Meat, tests done at its facilities showed no trace of the killer bacterium as the company took food safety seriously.
Melanie Britow said the company had heightened its staff training on how to handle food in the wake of the outbreak.
“If there is a safety risk, we will initiate a recall,” she added.
Some of the street vendors who sell vetkoek had stopped selling processed meat products and replaced these with other protein sources such as liver and burger patties.
“The replacements are not selling as fast as the polony and Russian sausages, even though they cost the same price. Customers love their vetkoek with polony and sausages,” one of the sellers said.
However, others continued to sell the products as they claimed they were not aware of the recall of the products.
The Cape Chamber of Commerce said it had no idea at this stage what financial impact the recall has had on local businesses.
The Muslim Judicial Council Halal Trust cautioned Muslim consumers to heed the advice of the health minister.
“I encourage Muslims to abstain and steer clear of all processed meats, whether from Muslim butchers or other outlets until the listeriosis issue is contained and the root cause actually determined.
“Even though the processed chicken is halal, because of the listeriosis bacterial infection, it is unsafe to eat, therefore we are discouraging anyone to eat it and declaring it as unfit for Muslim consumption," trust director, Shaykh Sedick said.
A large catering service said it had moved swiftly to act on the recall.
Roy van der Zwan, marketing director of Fedics which supplies services businesses, schools, colleges, hospitals and care facilities, said the company had isolated the implicated suppliers from its procurement chain.
“We’ve stopped ordering from the category of products from them and have found other suppliers. We’ve also disposed of stock in our system and sterilised our kitchens and equipment throughout the country," he added.
The Western Cape Department of Education said it had alerted schools about the outbreak, although its school nutrition programme did not include processed meat. In a circular it sent to the schools it advised caution when buying food from merchants who might be selling food near schools.
The School Governing Bodies Foundation warned governing bodies to be vigilant about any processed foods being sold in tuck shops, at fêtes or at sporting fixtures.
Meanwhile, Tiger Brands said it had withdrawn about 3500 tons of the products and its partners would manage the safe disposal of all the returned products.