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South African Manufacturer Demanding Listeria Standard

06/13/2018

The dust has not settled on the extensive outbreak of listeriosis in South Africa claiming close to 1,100 victims with 200 fatalities. The outbreak was traced back to a plant operated by leading food manufacturer Tiger Brands with a sausage product termed “polony” as the vehicle of infection.

 

Currently South Africa operates on a standard of 100 cfu per 100 grams in contrast to the U.S. and the E.U. which have imposed a zero tolerance for Listeria monocytogenes in food products and especially ready-to-eat items.

 

According to the CEO of Tiger Brands, Lawrence MacDougall, the Government of South Africa should be responsible for establishing a standard, in accordance with the formation of a food safety council. This self-exculpatory attempt has the apparent intent of absolving his Company of an independent and meaningful response. An apology would seem to be more in order. This will presumably be left to his successor.

 

Following outbreaks of listeriosis traced back to their plants, Maple Leaf Foods in Canada, Blue Bell Creamery and the Rocky Ford Cantaloupe Growers Association immediately announced conformity to the zero tolerance standard and established preventive measures based on HACCP principles.

 

MacDougall stated that, “Enterpise has not seen anything that would indicate negligence.”  Although conceding that the implicated Listeria monocytogenes ST6 strain was present in both the Polokwane plant and in Enterprise products. Lawyers will have no problem invoking the principle of res ipsa loquitor. Wake up Mr. MacDougall, take your head out of the sand or wherever it might be and acknowledge responsibility and commit to following world trends. 

 

Ready-to-eat meats especially when derived from off-cuts and low-value pork, beef and chicken ingredients are highly susceptible to contamination with Listeria. Plants producing deli cuts and ready-to-eat meats have comprehensive programs to ensure that machinery and work surfaces are thoroughly decontaminated with routine disassembly. HACCP programs incorporate a structured program of monitoring.  Anything less will result in a reoccurrence of infection.In the absence of effective control and detection programs, Tiger Brands operated the plant negligently and will be responsible for both criminal and civil penalties.

 

As with Chipotle Mexican Grill in the 2016 and 2017 multiple foodborne outbreaks, causation involves both incompetent top management and a lack of knowledge at the middle levels of the company involved in production and quality control.  Failure to run a food company in accordance with international standards and demonstrating willful unconcern for the operational procedures applied by companies in the E.U. and North America effectively represents negligence.

 

Tiger Brands does not have to conduct a “root cause analysis of the outbreak” as suggested by the GM. Enterprise should appoint knowledgeable QC personnel and the Company should just knuckle down and follow the example of successful companies producing ready-to-eat foods.