Listeriosis: the world’s largest ever outbreak of the food-borne disease hits 204 deaths

On Thursday 17 May 2018, the death toll from the world’s largest ever outbreak of food-borne disease listeriosis rose to 204. South African authorities, however, said despite the increase in deaths, the number of new cases has declined sharply following products recall.

“Since the identification of the source of the outbreak and recall of implicated products, the number of cases of listeria has declined drastically,” the Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture said in a joint statement made available.

According to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD), the number of cases reported has risen to 1,033 but the number reported per week had decreased to an average of 6.4 compared with 24.9 previously recorded.

“Risk profiling of food processing premises is under way and preparations have been made for a programme of inspections and laboratory testing of high risk processing facilities of food that may be at risk for Listeria contamination,” the departments of health and agriculture told Reuters.

After the health department recalled processed meat products, a class action lawsuit was filed against South Africa’s biggest consumer food producer, Tiger Brands, at the South Gauteng High Court over the listeriosis outbreak that claimed the lives.

In order to ensure this doesn’t happen again, the government said it would review its food safety legislation and would hold a consultative meeting regarding compulsory specifications for processed meat.

What you need to know about Listeriosis outbreak in South Africa

Listeria is a bacterium that is naturally found in the environment. It commonly occurs in soil, water, vegetation and in the faeces of some animals. It can contaminate a wide variety of food types which includes meat and meat products, dairy products (unpasteurized and pasteurized), fresh and frozen produce (fruits, vegetables, and sprouts) and ready-to-eat products.

Uncooked processed meat has frequently been linked to listeria outbreaks around the world. It thrives in fridges and is killed by cooking.

It takes up to 30 days before the symptoms of Listeriosis can manifest. The symptoms include muscle aches, fever, runny tummy.bPeople that are prone to the infection include people with impaired immune systems, the elderly, pregnant women, and infants.

Polony and other processed meat products have been recalled and the shops that sell them were asked to clean their fridges with diluted bleach.