Up to now, there have probably been many South Africans who have not worried about the listeriosis epidemic.
For many, it is a remote concept – the sort of thing that happens to other people.
That ended yesterday afternoon, when a grave-looking Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi announced that the source of the killer outbreak had been traced to products of the Enterprise and Rainbow companies and that production facilities in Polokwane had been identified as sources of the infection.
Not only that – the minister also revealed that other places are suspected of being contaminated.
But it was his no-nonsense statement that the public should avoid all meats products sold as ready to eat that made the severity of the situation sink in.
Basically, if you have these products in your fridge, you must throw them out – but you must package them separately when you do so.
At the same time, you should thoroughly clean your hands after you have removed the meat and you should also ensure the fridge or deep freeze is similarly disinfected.
This is because listeriosis-infected meat can “cross-contaminate” other meat and foodstuffs, including uncooked vegetables.
This outbreak has already brought down more around 1 000 people and has led to 180 deaths.
That is a serious public health problem – and those with compromised immune systems, including the elderly, the sick, pregnant women and infants, need to be especially careful.
There will undoubtedly be huge losses for the companies involved – both in lost sales, extra decontamination costs and possible lawsuits.
And there will be huge reputation damage. They need to up their game and improve their systems to lessen the risk of such infections in the future.
And the rest of us need to take cleanliness and hygiene much more seriously. Our lives might depend on it.