The listeria outbreak that gripped the country a few months ago should be a constant reminder to stakeholders and consumers of the need to maintain high food hygiene standards.
THE listeria outbreak that gripped the country a few months ago should be a constant reminder to stakeholders and consumers of the need to maintain high food hygiene standards.

This came out of discussions during the second annual international conference for Food Safety and Security.

The three-day conference last week, held in the city, saw agriculture bodies, scientists, researchers and academics speaking of the importance of people being hyper-vigilant with food.

Dr Stacey Duvenage from the University of Pretoria and a Food Security and Safety Scientific Committee member, said the listeria outbreak had subsided, but that in no way meant the virus was cured or non-existent.

“Where does listeriosis come from? In numerous places such as the soil, and we can’t conclude with certainty that simply because there are fewer reported cases therefore it’s gone.

“Perhaps we need to look at ethics and morals of the food businesses to make sure companies do the right things even when no one is looking.”

This was as important as audits, she said. Most businesses ensured the right systems were in place but it was more about having people decide daily to make the right decisions. “We have to try to understand what makes people do the right things, even when it’s not easy or no one is looking.

“The outbreak led us to have the right systems in place. We still have dead people, so that must mean we’ve got something wrong with some of the systems or perhaps they are not functioning as they should.”

The next step, Duvenage said, was to consider how businesses were managed, staff trained and food handlers engaged.

Another issue raised in the various sessions was the safety of food sold by street vendors.

University of Pretoria research student Tintswalo Baloyi said: “The majority of the population is poor, and they purchase fruit and vegetables from street vendors. Buying food from street vendors is not the problem, the only precaution we have to encourage is for people to wash their food even if they bought them at top retailers.

“There is no blame game in ensuring food safety because we all play a part in it."