The one year anniversary of the listeriosis outbreak

By Food Focus on 05 March 2019

This week we mark one year since the Department of Health confirmed they had identified the source of the listeriosis outbreak in South Africa - the largest outbreak of listeriosis in the history of mankind.

Let us take a moment and consider those who lost their lives or have suffered loss - and then turn our attention to ourselves - the South African food industry.   What have we learnt? Or have we already swept the whole sordid affair under the carpet with a sigh of relief that it’s over?


Except it’s not over! Although we have new regulations for hygiene and HACCP and improved microbiological standards on the way, the risk of food borne illness hasn’t gone away.  If we are honest with ourselves, we know that from time to time our products may be contaminated; sometimes our environment is contaminated. We do recall products... and it’s not a publically announced event to warn consumers is it?


In the past few months we have probably all learnt a lot about Listeria monocytogenes, about cleaning and disinfection, about swabbing and what to do with those positive results from the lab.   But have we learnt the most important lesson - who are we feeding?

Have we stopped to really understand the intended use of our products and what consumers really do with it - given the fact that many of them live in shacks with poor service delivery and sanitation.   Have we reviewed the consumer groups our product's are intended for? Are they only the wealthy, the healthy and those with access to private medical facilities. The answer is probably no... and that’s the point.

Food safety is about making sure our product is safe for the poorest of the poor, the immuno-compromised and thise lacking access to health care. That’s who we are feeding - that’s the lesson we should have learnt in the past 12 months. If not then how will we ever make sure we don’t face a repeat of this type of outbreak again?  But beware,  maybe next time it will be your company making news headlines, for all the wrong reasons.

Looking back, the words of Prof. Pieter Gouws,  Professor of Food Science at Stellenbosch
University,  still ring true. 


The message is clear:  "Don't relax now.  The complexities of 
Listeria in a food factory should never be underestimated."

Some people ask us why we're still talking about Listeria, since the outbreak is long over.  The reality is that there's never a time when the food industry can take a break from managing their risks and their food safety.  Listeria remains a risk, and so do many other pathogens.  Even though the outbreak is over,  we still have to be on alert, focused on producing safe food, protecting our consumers and doing the right thing.


Looking back at the Listeriosis Outbreak Timeline

We took a look through our archives to see how it unfolded...

7 NOV     
We may have a problem:  Spike in Listeria infections in South Africa - why it matters

5 DEC     Getting to Know our Enemy: Listeria Factsheet

8 DEC     The lawyers weigh in:  Listeria and the law – what you need to know

30 DEC   False accusations: Press Release DOH: Origin of contaminated listeria food samples identified

2 JAN      Battling to pin down the pathogen: Source of listeriosis outbreak not confirmed (NICD)

7 JAN      Things get worse: Listeriosis flare-up now seen as worst documented outbreak in global history

10 JAN    The impact on the food industry: Inspection of food processing facilities for listeria

15 JAN    Helping keep it under control: Control of Listeria monocytogenes - guidance for the food industry

22 JAN    Educating the vulnerable: Listeria information for parents, teachers & preschools

15 FEB    More guidance for the industry: Keeping Listeria out of your production facility

3 MAR     Consumer education: How to keep Listeria out of your Refrigerator

4 MAR     The source is found: Media statement DOH: Source of Listeriosis outbreak in South Africa

12 MAR   Don't pass the buck:  Food safety is OUR problem

16 MAR   Educate, educate!  Listeria information for students 

16 MAR   And then educate some more:  Listeria information for parents, teachers & preschools

19 MAR   Know what not to buy: This is now the definitive list of banned meat products

28 MAR   Not just ST6:  Whole Genome Sequencing results of Listeria found at Rainbow Foods

29 MAR  The legal battle begins:  #Listeriosis: Class action lawsuit filed against Tiger Brands

3 APR      Keeping to the facts - the NICD:  Statement Regarding the Source of the Listeriosis Outbreak

4 APR      Listeria's Family Tree:  Listeria - What's in a Name Infographic

26 AP      Test don't lie:  Tiger Brands testing confirms the presence of listeria ST6 strain in their product

3 MAY     Workshops & Presentations:  Listeria Prevention Presentation Pack

18 MAY   Legislation:  Government conducting a review of food safety legislation to curb listeriosis

8 JUN       The industry in crisis: | Local processed meat demand down 75% due to listeriosis

18 JUN    Learn from others:  Listeria Guidance & Best Practices in Produce Facilities

10 JUL     Another Listeria alert:  Woolworths recalls frozen rice over Listeria concerns

3 SEP       And the outbreak is over:  Media Statement by The Minister Health on Listeriosis Outbreak

6 SEP       Still a mystery:  Tiger Brands Doubts it will find the origin of Listeria Bacteria at Factories.

7 DEC      Starting over:  Tiger Brands allowed to reopen Polokwane facility after listeria outbreak