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Batches of processed meat found to contain a unique strain of the listeria bacteria which has caused the world’s largest outbreak of listeriosis in South Africa.

Listeriosis is a form of food poisoning and is caught from eating food stuffs contaminated by the listeria bacteria, in particular dairy products and ready-to-eat meat and fish products. As listeria can continue to multiply in uncooked food kept in the fridge, processed meats, smoked meats and soft cheeses that are not cooked are often linked to outbreaks of listeriosis.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the symptoms of infection include fever, muscle aches, and sometimes nausea or diarrhoea. If the infection spreads to the nervous system, headaches, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance and convulsions may occur. In otherwise healthy individuals, the infection is usually mild and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, South Africa (NICD) says that the vast majority of people who consume contaminated products will in fact be fine. However, in pregnant women, infection can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or infection of the newborn. People with a damaged immune system and the elderly are also at increased risk of more severe disease. The disease has a high fatality rate in the susceptible population.

According to reports in the media as of 7 March 2018, the South African listeria outbreak has killed 180 people since January 2017, with nearly 1,000 cases reported.

Recommendation

According to information provided by one of Gard’s correspondents in South Africa, P&I Associates (Pty) Ltd., the foods linked to the listeriosis outbreak are Enterprise Russians/Vienna, Rainbow Chicken Polony and Enterprise Polony sausages. It is therefore recommended that vessels’ crew check whether any of these products have been supplied to the vessel by local suppliers. Should these products have been supplied to the vessel, NICD recommends to use diluted bleach to clean all areas where such products may have been kept. Local ship chandlers should be able to provide clear laboratory tests for other cold meats etc. that are sourced locally.

The WHO recommends the following five measures to maintain good food hygiene:

  1. Keep clean: wash your hands before handling food and often during food preparation
  2. Separate raw and cooked: separate raw meat, poultry and seafood from other foods
  3. Cook thoroughly: cook foods thoroughly, especially meat, poultry, eggs and seafood
  4. Keep food at safe temperatures: refrigerate and reheat foods correctly
  5. Use safe water and raw materials: use safe water or make it safe (by boiling); choose foods processed for safety such as pasteurized dairy products; wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly, especially if eaten raw.

Additional information and advice is also available from the WHO: Basic Information on Listeriosis: What we should know

We are grateful to our correspondents, P&I Associates (Pty) Ltd, Durban, for assisting with the above.