The food safety executive at the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa, Setati Matlou, said finding the source of listeriosis kept them awake at night because they wanted answers that would put South Africans at peace.
Matlou was speaking at a press briefing organised by the National Press Club, during which several food industry role-players had an opportunity to highlight the role of the private sector and local government in combating the disease.
Matlou said environmental health practitioners played a huge role in the battle to eradicate the disease. She said she was happy that most municipalities were hiring more environmental health practitioners in general.
“Sometimes it’s very difficult to explain microbiological organisms and not make them all seem bad. Not all food contains biological organisms that could cause diseases. Yoghurt is a good example of a food that has micro-organisms but we can eat them.
“The situation right now is that the source of the disease (listeriosis) is not yet identified.”
Linda Jackson, from Food Focus, said the private sector, such as retailers, showed interest to self-regulate on top of food safety regulations that already existed. She said South African retailers thought of themselves as brands and needed to ensure the safety of their consumers. She said retailers also audited their suppliers to ensure that the manufacturers delivered the safe products they had promised.
“Although suppliers need to pass safety and hygiene tests, retailers also audit them in various ways, which include unannounced audits.”
Jackson said most South African retailers had their own set of rules that their suppliers needed to abide by. She added that ideally it would be preferable if they all had the same rules.
The panel, including Dr Requier Wait, of AgriSA, said South Africans needed to know that the country’s food was safe and food suppliers did not want to hurt consumers.
Minister of Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi has said it was possible that listeriosis could come and go without the source being identified, as had happened with other diseases that have affected people around the world. But their source remained a mystery.
Jackson said: “If it happens that this disease disappears without the source being identified, we should be concerned. However, if that happens, we should ensure that we are better prepared to deal with it in the future.”
Jackson said she was happy that there were awareness campaigns but she was not satisfied. She said much more could still be done to combat any misinformation and to advise the public of numerous ways to minimise the risk of contracting the disease, which can be found in water, food and soil.