Listeriosis litigation no doubt looming - legal expert

Cape Town - Without a doubt litigation is looming on behalf of the families of people who died because of the recent listeriosis infection, Rehana Khan Parker, an attorney specialising in medical claims, told Fin24.

In her view, there will be countless loss of support claims as well as negligence claims.

"The sooner one can pin the culprit, the sooner these claims can get going. But as we all know about big business, it will do everything in its power to sweep it under the carpet and leave it to claimants to expend thousands of rand to prove negligence," she said.

The source of SA's latest outbreak of listeriosis was traced to an Enterprise Foods facility in Polokwane. Tiger Brands, of which Enterprise Foods is a subsidiary, has suspended operations in Polokwane and Germiston and is working with regulators to get the factories ready for operations again as soon as possible, it said.

During a media briefing on Monday, Tiger Brands' CEO Lawrence MacDougall, however, emphasised that the company is unaware of any evidence to show a direct correlation between the 180 listeriosis-related deaths so far and the group's products.

A Tiger Brands spokesperson told Fin24 on Thursday that there have only been three products that the Department of Health has requested the company to recall, namely Enterprise polony, Frankfurters and Russians.
"However, as a consumer conscious organisation, we are being extra vigilant and cautious as consumer safety remains our highest priority. As such, we have taken the decision to conduct a full recall of all our Enterprise Foods ready-to-eat chilled processed meat products - including bacon, although not within this product specification," the spokesperson said.

"We can confirm that any consumers who have bought and still have these products will be refunded on returning the product(s) to the place of purchase."
She said these new measures are intended to mitigate any further risks and are a demonstration of the company's absolute commitment to the health and safety of its consumers and to zero-tolerance for any potential health risk in its food production process.

In the view of Khan Parker, companies typically shy away from taking responsibility when an outbreak like this occurs.

"I understand that the disease is easily masked and can go undetected in testing, but the question remains: how could it have escaped the regular testing that the company said it took?" she asked.

"It is said that the strain can also hide in niches and corners of a factory."

She said her concern is for the households who stored (infected food products) in their refrigerators or opened the packaging, which could have contaminated a knife or other products.  

"My question is: have all sources of the products - from what is imported to the factory itself - been investigated and tested?" she asked.

"I am aware of an ingredient called MDM used in the manufacturing process. That needs to be investigated."

She emphasised that the Department of Health and consumer authorities are obligated to leave no stone unturned to investigate the outbreak.

"It is high time that companies take this and any other outbreak seriously. We should learn from this. How does one prevent an outbreak - or rather - what measures can one put in place to ensure that strict testing procedures are followed? What about serious random testing," she said.

"Have all the laboratory and food reports been verified. Who was charged with doing the forensics. Have records been checked and cross checked? Has the individual in food safety been interviewed? Were their record of activities checked?"

In her view, in the food industry that should have been enough reason to halt all production and make the public aware. Not several deaths and days later.

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