This week we mark one year since the Department of Health confirmed they had identified the source of the listeriosis outbreak in South Africa - the largest outbreak of listeriosis in the history of mankind.
Let us take a moment and consider those who lost their lives or have suffered loss - and then turn our attention to ourselves - the South African food industry. What have we learnt? Or have we already swept the whole sordid affair under the carpet with a sigh of relief that it’s over?
Except it’s not over! Although we have new regulations for hygiene and HACCP and improved microbiological standards on the way, the risk of food borne illness hasn’t gone away. If we are honest with ourselves, we know that from time to time our products may be contaminated; sometimes our environment is contaminated. We do recall products... and it’s not a publically announced event to warn consumers is it?
In the past few months we have probably all learnt a lot about Listeria monocytogenes, about cleaning and disinfection, about swabbing and what to do with those positive results from the lab. But have we learnt the most important lesson - who are we feeding?
Have we stopped to really understand the intended use of our products and what consumers really do with it - given the fact that many of them live in shacks with poor service delivery and sanitation. Have we reviewed the consumer groups our product's are intended for? Are they only the wealthy, the healthy and those with access to private medical facilities. The answer is probably no... and that’s the point.
Food safety is about making sure our product is safe for the poorest of the poor, the immuno-compromised and thise lacking access to health care. That’s who we are feeding - that’s the lesson we should have learnt in the past 12 months. If not then how will we ever make sure we don’t face a repeat of this type of outbreak again? But beware, maybe next time it will be your company making news headlines, for all the wrong reasons.
Looking back, the words of Prof. Pieter Gouws, Professor of Food Science at Stellenbosch
University, still ring true.
Some people ask us why we're still talking about Listeria, since the outbreak is long over. The reality is that there's never a time when the food industry can take a break from managing their risks and their food safety. Listeria remains a risk, and so do many other pathogens. Even though the outbreak is over, we still have to be on alert, focused on producing safe food, protecting our consumers and doing the right thing.
We took a look through our archives to see how it unfolded...
7 NOV We may have a problem: Spike in Listeria infections in South Africa - why it matters
5 DEC Getting to Know our Enemy: Listeria Factsheet
8 DEC The lawyers weigh in: Listeria and the law – what you need to know
30 DEC False accusations: Press Release DOH: Origin of contaminated listeria food samples identified
2 JAN Battling to pin down the pathogen: Source of listeriosis outbreak not confirmed (NICD)
7 JAN Things get worse: Listeriosis flare-up now seen as worst documented outbreak in global history
10 JAN The impact on the food industry: Inspection of food processing facilities for listeria
15 JAN Helping keep it under control: Control of Listeria monocytogenes - guidance for the food industry
22 JAN Educating the vulnerable: Listeria information for parents, teachers & preschools
15 FEB More guidance for the industry: Keeping Listeria out of your production facility
3 MAR Consumer education: How to keep Listeria out of your Refrigerator
4 MAR The source is found: Media statement DOH: Source of Listeriosis outbreak in South Africa
12 MAR Don't pass the buck: Food safety is OUR problem
16 MAR Educate, educate! Listeria information for students
16 MAR And then educate some more: Listeria information for parents, teachers & preschools
19 MAR Know what not to buy: This is now the definitive list of banned meat products
28 MAR Not just ST6: Whole Genome Sequencing results of Listeria found at Rainbow Foods
29 MAR The legal battle begins: #Listeriosis: Class action lawsuit filed against Tiger Brands
3 APR Keeping to the facts - the NICD: Statement Regarding the Source of the Listeriosis Outbreak
4 APR Listeria's Family Tree: Listeria - What's in a Name Infographic
26 AP Test don't lie: Tiger Brands testing confirms the presence of listeria ST6 strain in their product
3 MAY Workshops & Presentations: Listeria Prevention Presentation Pack
18 MAY Legislation: Government conducting a review of food safety legislation to curb listeriosis
8 JUN The industry in crisis: Fin24.com | Local processed meat demand down 75% due to listeriosis
18 JUN Learn from others: Listeria Guidance & Best Practices in Produce Facilities
10 JUL Another Listeria alert: Woolworths recalls frozen rice over Listeria concerns
3 SEP And the outbreak is over: Media Statement by The Minister Health on Listeriosis Outbreak
6 SEP Still a mystery: Tiger Brands Doubts it will find the origin of Listeria Bacteria at Factories.
7 DEC Starting over: Tiger Brands allowed to reopen Polokwane facility after listeria outbreak