Despite Health Minister, Aaron Motsoaledi, recently announcing that the listeriosis outbreak in South Africa was officially over, Listeria monocytogenes bacteria was still present in ready-to-eat meat samples obtained from rural areas and the informal sector.
This has emerged in a study by the food safety research group at the Institute for Food, Nutrition and Well-being, University of Pretoria (UP).
Between December 2016 and September 2018, the researchers collected a total of 344 samples from 20 food outlets across the country.
The team found that four samples among 116 samples collected after the source had been identified and the products recalled, still tested positive for listeria.
“What we think is happening is that while the major implicated products and brand have been removed from retail stores, some tainted products remain in the food system. Considering rural areas and the informal sector, it is to be expected that it is almost impossible to make sure that all contaminated food products has been effectively removed from the whole system,” said Prof Lise Korsten, co-director of the Centre of Excellence Food Security at UP.
She added that some of the samples in the study showed that listeria was also present in lesser-known brands unaffected by the product recall.
The study also found that the contamination came from the packaging rather than the actual products.
This raised concerns about general hygiene practices and indicated that the entire supply chain should be tested, and not just the factories where the products were manufactured, she explained.
The fight against listeria and other foodborne pathogens was an ongoing challenge that required the involvement and support of all parties involved in the supply chain.
“We need a national strategy, we need policy, and we need governance,” Korsten stressed.