It would recall some products under the Enterprise name "as soon as possible", listed company Tiger Brands said on Sunday, in response to a government announcement that Enterprise had been responsible for the outbreak of listeriosis in South Africa.
It then instructed consumers to "remove any Enterprise ready-to-eat meat products from your fridge and place in a plastic bag – away from other foods."
Tiger Brands had known about the presence of listeriosis-causing bacteria in its products since 14 February, 18 days before it was forced into the recall.
According to government data the outbreak has caused 180 deaths to date, in the largest outbreak ever.
"We can now conclude scientifically that the source of the present outbreak is the Enterprise Foods production facility located in Polokwane," health minister Aaron Motsoaledi announced.
He said listeria had also been traced to another Enterprise facility in Gauteng.
THE SOURCE OF THE PRESENT OUTBREAK CAN BE CONFIRMED TO BE THE ENTERPRISE FOOD-PRODUCTION FACILITY IN POLOKWANE. The results show that ready-to-eat processed meat products from Enterprise facility located in Germiston contain L. monocytogenes, the sequence type is not known— Department of Health (@HealthZA) March 4, 2018
The National Consumer Commission has already issued a recall for products from the facilities. Motsoaledi called on consumers to empty their fridges of Enterprise products.
It is not yet clear what Tiger's liability could be in relation to those deaths.
Enterprise falls into a group that Tiger describes as its "perishables brands”. It is positioned as a high-end producer of processed meat.
“Enterprise Foods has, since 1917, been offering South African consumers quality products with the brand promise of 'superior quality you can trust'," the brand describes itself.
In the 2017 financial year the Tiger brands corporate division in which Enterprise is housed recorded R2.2 billion in revenue.
The unit also houses the Renown brand.
"We are all extremely concerned by Listeriosis - we all want to find the source or sources of listeriosis, together with government," Tiger Brands said in a statement shortly after the announcement, in which it stopped well short of taking responsibility for the spread of the bacterial illness.
"The company proactively amplified its testing for Listeria and can confirm that we had found a low detection of a strain of listeria in some products on 14 February but the presence of the ST6 strain has not been confirmed by our tests. The company has furthermore sent its samples to an external laboratory to test for the strain itself and should receive the results tomorrow."
At least 16 samples taken from the Enterprise facility in Polokwane had tested positive for the listeriosis strain ST6, the government said.
That strain has been linked to nearly a third of the deaths reported so far.
"We have been actively engaging the Department of Health and the NICD on our findings and have openly collaborated with the DoH and the NICD on these findings and the actions taken to date to actively address our findings," Tiger said in its statement.
"We await confirmation of the strain testing to confirm the strain. In the meantime, we reaffirm our commitment to recall the identified Enterprise products as soon as possible."
Tiger brands identifies among its core values "never compromise the safety of our consumers" and "nvest in the safety of our products".
The website for Enterprise Foods was not available, and its Twitter account was initially set to private. The Twitter account was subsequently made publicly accessible, and posted a link to a statement on Facebook that stressed Tiger Brands' commitment to food safety twice in the first sentence.
Tiger Brands said the Enterprise website "is down and was not blocked purposefully".
Consumers, especially high-risk groups such as pregnant women, have been warned to avoid processed meats entirely.
"While we know that polony is definitely implicated, there is a risk of cross-contamination of other ready-to-eat processed meat products, either at production, distribution or retail," said Motsoaledi. "This is because Listeria on the exterior casing (packaging) of polony can be transferred to other products it comes into contact with, including viennas, russians, frankfurters, other sausages, and other 'cold meat' products that are typically not cooked before eating."
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