SA consumers urged to observe sell-by, use-by dates due to Listeriosis

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The South African government on Wednesday, urged consumers to observe all sell-by and use-by date for ready-to-eat products despite all meat being inspected and being safe for human consumption at abattoirs and processing plants.

“While meat legally placed on the market has been inspected and passed as safe for human consumption at abattoirs and processing plants, care must be taken by consumers to ensure that there is no post-production contamination of the meat and that the meat is properly cooked and kept in a hygienic environment and correct temperatures,” the departments of agriculture, forestry and fisheries; health; and trade and industry said in a joint statement.

Earlier, Health Minister, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, said that three meat processing facilities have been implicated in the current Listeriosis outbreak and therefore several actions had been undertaken at these facilities, which included the closure of the facilities, suspension of export certification and recalling of the implicated products.

Trade and Industry Minister, Dr Rob Davies, confirmed that immediately upon being informed of the affected products, the necessary notice to recall the affected products were issued by Government through the National Consumer Commission.

“Samples have been taken at these facilities, and confirmatory tests conducted to determine whether or not Listeria found is in fact the sequence types which are of public health concern at the moment,” the joint statement read.

“The affected facilities will be monitored for implementation of corrective actions and once all the relevant regulatory authorities are satisfied with the measures taken, they will be permitted to continue their operations. Further investigation on the origin, including Mechanically Deboned Meat (MDM), of the Listeria sequence types of concern is underway.”

According to the statement, Davies highlighted that if imported products were found to be the origin of the current Listeriosis outbreak, swift action would be taken to protect the food safety in South Africa.

Currently, imported MDM was being sampled for microbial contamination and since the beginning of March 2018 the testing regime also included Listeria.

Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister, Senzeni Zokwana, stated that he was informed by the National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC) that it was still early days to fully assess the impact of listeriosis on the food basket and that the impact of product recalls might only be evident within the next three to four months.

“Government remain concerned about agricultural commodities, including meat and meat products unrelated to the current outbreak of listeriosis and even fruits and vegetables from South Africa that are being banned from being imported and taken off the retail shelves in countries to which South Africa export such products,” the joint statement read.

“This is a concern since these products do not pose any risk to the consumers and have been certified safe for human consumption by our competent certifying official veterinarians.”

Motsoaledi clarified the safety of meat produced in South Africa to his Southern African Development Community (SADC) counterparts at a meeting of SADC ministers of health held in Kempton Park in Gauteng on March 15, to update them on the Listeriosis outbreak in the country and to develop a common approach to combating this illness across the region, the statement said.

“As a collective we want to express our support for the leadership of the Department of Health in interventions to protect human health from unsafe food products. We will continue our participation in the Public Health Emergency Coordinating Committee (PHECC) and the Multi-Sectoral National Outbreak Response Team (MNORT),” the statement read.

“We appeal to all the role players involved in the value chain, from primary producers, processors and retail distributors to continue to work with government to ensure that this outbreak is brought under control.”