Food safety is OUR problem

Follow up comments to the article by Georgina Crouth in The Star Monday 12 March 2018

By Linda Jackson on 12 March 2018

The last week has seen a record number of food safety articles in the press, on social media and all media channels. And it’s long overdue.It is always such a privilege to be able to provide comment on a story educating public on food safety issues,it is important to ensure the facts are reported correctly and errors highlighted.

We would like to give you some background to the comments and highlight some corrections:


Foodborne illness is still a public health concern.

The WHO maintains it is an area of concern worldwide and after this outbreak, it is likely to remain on their watchlist for South Africa. The main drive should be prevention as these illnesses are preventable


Foodborne illness is under reported

This is a worldwide phenomenon, even in countries like the USA where they have accessible tools like FOODNET and similar interventions.

Although it has been reportable we have not seen much reporting. Here is the list of notifiable medical conditions in South Africa. It would be interesting to know how many average South Africans know of this list or even where to report.  content/uploads/2017/03/NICD_Communicable_Diseases_Communique_December_2017.pdf


Listeria is not the ONLY foodborne pathogen.

The reporting systems we should have must address all foodborne pathogens. This should include Salmonella, E.coli 0157, Campylobacter, Norovirus etc. A closer look at the news and the NICD reports will demonstrate that there have been other outbreaks. Refer to page 8 as an example.


Consumer Behaviour

In my experience consumers don’t understand the time it takes for symptoms to develop in relation to the time of consumption and so the causal factor may be incorrectly identified. Consumers also don’t know where to report incidents and even if they do, it is as if only larger outbreaks make the news, if at all. A brief scan of consumer platforms like “Hellopeter” do show the dialogue in some cases so it is happening.


Medical Practitioners

In my experience with medical practioners, they treat the symptoms unless hospitalization is necessary and even then seldom positively identify the organism to blame. Some have even indicated their reluctance to report as this may process may require their further involvement which is not income generating.


So what is the missing link?

We do have a report card actually as StatsSA mortality reports indicate those deaths associated with communicable diseases – foodborne illness included. The latest report indicates that intestinal disease is fortunately no longer in the top 10 in all ages but the numbers remain high.(Of interest are the case of HUS – often associated with E.coli.0157 and the neonate deaths.) Foodborne illnesses would contribute to no. 1 on Table 4. It would be interesting to understand what percentage.


Our retail food safety audit systems are in place including product testing. This Listeriosis outbreak has highlighted weaknesses. The origin of the contamination and how products were affected will hopefully expose these weaknesses.


What about other sectors that are not subject to the same level of self regulation such as catering and restaurants. What mechanisms do we have here? Only the government who have already admitted their failures. In other parts of the world these outlets pose a significant risk e.g.  so let’s not forget them in this outbreak.


We look forward to working with Georgina on some follow up articles for this sector.


Read the the article by Georgina Crouth here