Photo: A worker walks past cold meat products know as "polony" after it was removed from the shelves of Pick n Pay Store in Johannesburg, South Africa, March 5, 2018. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
No listeria-affected polony manufactured by South Africa’s Enterprise Foods were halal-certified, Nevashnee Naicker, spokesperson for the firm’s parent company Tiger Brands, told Salaam Gateway.
Since the first report of listeriosis at the start of 2017 in South Africa, the food-borne disease has claimed 180 lives, with 948 cases reported by February 27 this year, according to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).
NICD traced the outbreak on March 3 to a processed cold meat product called polony. The infected polony products were further traced to a factory owned by Enterprise Foods in Polokwane, the capital of the Limpopo province.
Another company, Rainbow Chicken, a part of RCL Foods, was not identified as a source of the listeria strain ST6 responsible for the outbreak but a facility owned by it is under investigation.
Tiger Brands’ Naicker told Salaam Gateway none of their products have halal certification, as most contain pork.
This was confirmed by Ebi Lockhat, spokesperson for the South African National Halaal Authority (SANHA), one of the largest halal certifiers in the country. “The Enterprise factory (in Limpopo) to our knowledge is not certified by any halal body as they are involved in the production of pork products,” Lockhat told Salaam Gateway.
SANHA certifies Rainbow’s fresh chickens, but not its value-added products that includes polony. Lockhat says certification for the latter was removed in 2011, after the company began importing non-approved Brazilian meat and ‘white slime’, used as a bulking agent.
Rainbow’s halal-eligible value-added products are certified by the Muslim Judicial Council Halaal Trust (MJCHT). Mishka Daries, MJCHT spokesperson told Salaam Gateway that Rainbow’s polony is halal-certified but that the halal products constitute a small fraction of the company’s total output.
In a media statement MJCHT said it would re-assess its certification based on how RCL deals with the crisis. “If they continue producing processed meats under the current circumstances and ignoring the health risks, it could lead to an endemic. We may have to revoke our halal certification,” said MJCHT director Shaykh Achmat Sedick.
The statement further said halal inspectors assess the plants on the basis of cleanliness, and send samples to a laboratory to test for contamination of pork or alcohol. However, the MJCHT does not have the ‘expertise, mechanisms or mandate’ to do microbial testing, which falls out of its ambit.
South African halal consumers have also been urged to follow the advice of the Health Minister, who wants all residents to abstain from ready-to-eat processed meat items until the listeriosis is contained.
South Africa’s listeria outbreak is being watched by its export partners. On March 7 the United Arab Emirates’ Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE) said it was immediately suspending food imports from Tiger’s Enterprise and RCL Foods as part of precautionary measures, and directed local authorities to step up screening of South African meat and its products to ensure safety.
South Africa's neighbours Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique, Zambia and Botswana have all suspended South African processed meat imports.
Tiger Brands said on March 9 it had appointed an expert team to identify the causes of the listeria outbreak.
A South African human rights lawyer has said that he is planning to launch a class action lawsuit against Tiger Brands on behalf of the families of people who died and those affected by the outbreak.
(Reporting by Bibi-Aisha Wadvalla; Editing by Emmy Abdul Alim firstname.lastname@example.org)
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