Businessmen across the city say the listeriosis outbreak has caused major damage to those making a living in the meat industry.Not only are consumers being cautious in purchasing foods from manufacturers, but suppliers who are going through costly lengths to check their products’ status are also being affected daily.One businessman from Pelican Park, Hassan Ganie, says his sales to clients have dropped to less than 15% within a few days since the news that the bacterial infection has been found in everyday food items.“I don’t think it is fair how the Department of Health and media are covering the issue. We understand that they are trying to educate people on being alert to prevent another victim of listeriosis, but the way they are giving the message across is damaging a lot of businesses,” he says.Minister of health, Aaron Motsoaledi, announced earlier this month in a press statement that the ST6 Listeria strain, believed to be the cause of the outbreak and deaths, had been traced to Tiger Brands’ Enterprise chilled meat factory in Polokwane.“This issue started in Polokwane. Those responsible for it have been identified and need to be held responsible for it. There are media houses telling the public not to eat polony at all because they will die. Do they realise how damaging it is to the polony industry? Thousands of our workers are forced to go home due to a decrease in company sales, and food is going to waste because it is not being sold.”Ganie says despite telling his clients about testing that has been done to ensure all his products are safe, he cannot force them to purchase his products. “People have made up their minds and are into the listeriosis panic. They don’t trust any suppliers because the message given to the country has been clear – don’t eat polony. This is wrong,” he says. “We need to work towards the repair factor of all companies that have been affected by this. This matter has dampened many butchers. It will dampen the whole South African market if the issue is not communicated across properly. I plead with the Department of Health to go around to different manufacturers to do testing and to reassure the public which brands are safe and which ones are not, even if there is a cost involved.”The Red Meat Industry Forum (RMIF) also raised concern in a press statement following the Department of Health’s and the National Institute of Communicable Diseases’ (NICD) response to the outbreak earlier this month.“Their aforesaid media release is devoid of detail and this lack of detail has resulted in misinformation which is not only detrimental to the consumer, but also the country’s red meat industry. The average consumer is being led into a Listeria hysteria which is having unfortunate consequences for families who rely on processed meat as their source of protein.“The RMIF and its member organisations, representing the meat processing and related sectors, are deeply concerned that the entire processed meat industry has been implicated without justification. The devastating consequences emanating from the media coverage thus far as a result of the minister’s release have had far-reaching and catastrophic impact on the processed meat industry.” The RMIF has requested all relevant information relating to the tests conducted by the Department of Health and the NICD, as referred to in the release, to determine the exact nature and ambit of the testing conducted. “The outbreak has emphasised the responsibility of the red meat industry together with other food industries to provide for proper and improved hygiene during the production, processing, packing and preparation of red meat and red meat products. RMIF stakeholders are closely engaging the relevant authorities to improve microbiological criteria, processes and standards.”“Whilst industry is responsible for producing food that is safe for human consumption, it is also the responsibility of consumers not to content themselves that the only contamination can come from the facilities implicated, but to adopt basic hygienic practices when buying, transporting food home, preparing and storing food, to protect their health and to ensure that cross-contamination does not occur between cooked and raw products or from human hands and equipment.”The forum says Listeria presents a particular concern in respect of food handling, because it can multiply at refrigerator temperatures. “During the processing of livestock to meat at the abattoir, particular attention is given to slaughter procedures, personal hygiene and sterilisation of equipment to minimise bacterial contamination during this process. Meat inspection of each animal and carcass ensures the health of the animal and removal of any possible contamination that might have occurred.” The Department of Health was not available to comment at the time of going to print.