‘Despite listeriosis outbreak, our food is safe’
THE Consumer Goods Council of SA has assured the public that nearly all food consumed was safe, despite a listeriosis outbreak that has killed 61 people since last year.
The council’s food safety executive, Setati Matlou, said finding the source of the outbreak had kept them awake at night because they wanted answers that would put South Africans at peace.
Matlou was speaking at a press briefing organised by the National Press Club during which several food industry stakeholders had an opportunity to highlight the role of the private sector and local government in combating the disease.
Matlou said environmental health practitioners played a huge role in the battle. She said she was happy that most municipalities were hiring more environmental health practitioners in general.
“Sometimes it’s very difficult to explain microbiological organisms and not make them all seem bad. Not all food contains biological organisms that could cause diseases. Yoghurt is a good example of a food that has micro-organisms but we can eat them.
“The situation right now is that the source of the disease is not yet identified.”
Linda Jackson, from Food Focus, said the private sector, such as retailers, showed interest to self-regulate on top of food safety regulations that already existed. She said retailers thought of themselves as brands and needed to ensure the safety of their consumers.
“Although suppliers need to pass safety and hygiene tests, retailers also audit them in various ways, which include unannounced audits.”
Jackson said most retailers had their own set of rules which their suppliers needed to abide by.
The panel, including Dr Requier Wait of Agri SA, said South Africans needed to know that the country’s food was safe and food suppliers did not want to hurt consumers.
Minister of Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi has said it was possible that the listeriosis outbreak could come and go without the source being identified as had happened with other diseases that have affected people across the world. However, their source remained a mystery.
Jackson said: “If it happens that this disease disappears without the source being identified, we should be concerned. However, if that happens, we should ensure that we are better prepared to deal with it in the future.”
Jackson said she was happy that there were awareness campaigns but she wasn’t satisfied. She said much more could be done to combat any misinformation and to advise the public of numerous ways to minimise the risk of contracting the disease, which can be found in water, food and soil.
‘The source of the disease hasn’t been identified’