Listeria monocytogenes. Picture: Centres for Disease Control and Prevention

Johannesburg - The City of Joburg said on Friday that environmental health practitioners are hard at work following the discovery of strains of Listeria at a food outlet earlier in the day.

Member of the Mayoral Committee (MMC) for health and social development in the City, Dr Mpho Phalatse, said that samples had been taken to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases for confirmatory testing.

Phalatse, who did not name the food outlet, called on all community members not to panic but to remain vigilant and adhere to food safety guidelines.

"I would like to commend our environmental health practitioners for uncovering this potential source of infection. We are awaiting lab confirmation of whether or not this is a disease-causing strain of the organism. We should have results in the next 24 to 48 hours," Phalatse said in a statement. 

"In the meantime, residents should continue adhering to food safety guidelines and report to their nearest clinic if they start experiencing symptoms associated with the disease, especially pregnant women, babies below the age of 28 days, senior citizens above the age of 65 and immuno-compromised patients."

According to the Department of Health, there are 17 strains of the organism, but not all of them are disease-causing. 

The major human pathogen in the Listeria genus is L. monocytogenes. It is usually the causative agent of the relatively rare bacterial disease Listeriosis, a serious infection caused by eating food contaminated with the bacteria.

As of January 16, a total of 764 Listeriosis cases have been reported across the country, with the City of Joburg reporting 212 cases, with 19 deaths so far.

City of Joburg environmental health inspectors have also issued instructions that premises identified as high risk be sanitized while tests are ongoing. Preventing Listeriosis as a foodborne illness requires effective sterilisation of food contact surfaces. 

Alcohol is an effective surface cleaner against Listeria. Quaternary ammonium can be used in conjunction with alcohol as a food-contact safe steriliser with increased duration of the sterilisation action.

Phalatse said she will support Joburg Mayor Herman Mashaba in clamping down on lawlessness and intensifying oversight roles in ensuring that all food handlers strictly adhere to prescribed standards. She said her department will continue with public awareness campaigns to educate the public about the dangers of Listeriosis.

African News Agency/ANA