12 March 2018

Tanzania: Food Safety - Keeping an Eye On Listeria Outbreak

Cape Town — Food safety standards in Tanzania and Southern Africa are now put to test following a warning from the Tanzania Food and Drugs Authority (TFDA) that sausages and meat imported from South Africa are contaminated with bacterial species of listeria.

TFDA's decision is based on polony types that of the listeriosis-causing bacteria led to 180 deaths in South Africa since January this year.

The South Africa listeria outbreak is largest ever recorded globally, the World Health Organization said on Monday last week.

"Yes, this is the largest ever recorded outbreak of this severe form of listeriosis globally," Peter K. Ben Embarek, who manages the WHO International Food Safety Authorities Network said.

Tiger Brands was on damage control mode as the food giant denied any allegations of a link that existed between their products and more than 180 deaths induced by the deadly listeria outbreak.

It also announced that it had suspended operations at its Polokwane and Germiston facilities, and that it was withdrawing all products made at these facilities.

Some of the ready-to-eat processed meat products produced by Enterprise Foods, a division of Tiger Brands, which have since been recalled, include polony, russians and viennas.

Tiger Brands chief executive Lawrence MacDougall said the cost of the withdrawal would be at their expense.

He asserted that there was no direct correlation between the more than 180 deaths caused by the unique ST6 listeria strain and their products; and wouldn't comment on the financial implication of the national recall as they were busy collating the data. MacDougall crushed any suggestion that the origins of the outbreak could have been caused by poor hygiene standards at their facilities.

But, what's Listeriosis and how can one deal with it?

Listeriosis is an infection caused by Listeria, a bacterium found in contaminated soil, water, vegetation, certain animals like poultry and cattle, and milk. According to Food Safety researchers, listeria, unlike other germs, grows in cold temperatures, which makes your fridge the perfect breeding ground.

What are the symptoms?

See a doctor immediately if you may have consumed contaminated food and experience the following flu-like symptoms:

Fever

Vomiting

Diarrhoea

Stiff neck

Confusion

General weakness

Is Listeriosis contagious?

Yes. From someone who is infected - they can give you listeria if you eat food they've prepared if they haven't washed their hands.

If you come into close contact with farm animals, particularly sheep or cows that are giving birth.

Am I at risk?

You can become infected with Listeriosis and make a full recovery after about a week. Illness and death, however, may affect at-risk individuals. These include:

The elderly

Pregnant women

People with compromised immune systems

Organ transplant patients

People with HIV/Aids, autoimmune diseases, cancer, liver disease, alcoholism or diabetes

Can I prevent infection?

Avoid drinking unpasteurised milk. Check food labels as some foods may contain raw milk (for example feta or brie cheese).

Always practice good hygiene in the kitchen. Wash your hands regularly, and clean cutting boards, cutlery and crockery properly.

Cook animal foods (meat, poultry or fish) properly. If you're unsure, rather overcook than undercook. Foods need to be cooked or heated to at least 70ºC to prevent infection.

Don't consume foods that are expired.

Can Listeriosis be treated?

Yes. Treatment is usually symptomatic depending on the severity of infection. Milder cases can be treated at home by bed rest and drinking clear fluids, while a severe infection may require antibiotics. If you suspect listeria, see your doctor.

How long does it take to identify the source?

When a Listeriosis outbreak occurs, it can be difficult for experts to identify the food source. This is because infection can take between three and 70 days to develop after consuming contaminated food. It's easy enough to remember what you ate over the last few days - but going back a few weeks or months can be difficult.

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