The Gauteng department of health has closed down the Sovereign Foods abattoir in Tshwane after food samples linked to a case of listeriosis had been traced to a Pretoria shop the abattoir supplies.
However, Sovereign Foods has challenged the findings of the laboratory tests on the samples, claiming independent tests on samples from the same batch had proved negative.
The health department has called on the public and private sector to cooperate with environmental health officers in contact tracing of (mainly chicken products) food contaminated with the listeria monocytogenes pathogens based on positive diagnosis of listeriosis patients.
Gauteng health MEC Dr Gwen Ramokgopa asked Tshwane residents to work with officials to try and contain the disease while the Tshwane District Environmental Health Professionals has sought advice from the department following threat of litigation by Sovereign Foods.
Ramokgopa said samples from the abattoir were tested by the National Health Laboratory Services and they came out positive for the listeria pathogens.
“Based on the discovery, the prohibition notice has been issued to the abattoir in terms of Regulations 4 (3) of regulations governing the general hygiene for food premises and the transport of food for preparing food to the identified abattoir,” Ramokgopa said.
However, eNCA quoted a spokesperson for Sovereign Foods as saying it submitted 14 food samples to the department for tests and that the department found eight of these to contain listeria monocytogens. However, it says it also submitted a duplicate set of samples for independent analysis to Deltamune, and that the company found no traces of listeria.
“Despite discrepancies in these results, representatives from the Tshwane department of health served a prohibition notice on Sovereign Foods management that insists that the abattoir not operate until they inspected and resampled the environment on December 27, 2017,” the company said in a statement.
Sovereign is taking steps in correspondence with the department, requesting that the prohibition notice be reviewed and set aside until additional test results are released.
In a comment on the eNCA website, a user named Greg M claimed that Deltamune’s labs were “up to standard” but added: “We know how the state organisations are messed up.” Ramakgopa said while Sovereign Food’s legal rights are respected, the company is obliged to comply until the following has been adhered to: identify the source of contamination, disinfection of the premises, take surface swabs and water samples before and after disinfection. Ramokgopa said Gauteng is the province most affected by listeriosis.
More than 365 cases have been detected in the province, with 28 related deaths since the beginning of 2017. In order to trace the origin and also to contain the outbreak, the member of the mayoral committee for health in the City of Tshwane, Sakkie Du Plooy, gave the assurance that the city’s environmental health practitioners (EHPs) are carrying out home visits to all clients who were confirmed to be listeriosis positive and collecting food samples from the affected clients.
The samples have been submitted to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases. In the meantime, the department of health is calling on residents to practice basic hygiene, for example, by washing hands anytime they visited rest rooms.
The department also encourages residents to wash their vegetables and fruits before consuming them, boiling of water prior to use if you are not sure of its origin and avoid drinking unpasteurised milk, as well as cooking food at high temperature.
Ramokgopa said listeriosis is a serious but treatable and preventable disease caused by the bacterium, listeria monocytogenes. It is widely distributed in nature and can be found in soil, water and vegetation.
Individuals at high risk of developing severe disease include new-born babies, the elderly, pregnant women, persons with weak immunity such as those living with HIV, diabetes, cancer, chronic liver or kidney disease.