Imported mechanically deboned meat (MDM), also known as "white slime", is being tested at all South African ports of entry, the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries (DAFF) confirmed on Tuesday afternoon.
"Imported mechanically deboned meat, which is used to manufacture processed meats, is currently being tested at the ports of entry for listeria," DAFF spokesperson Bomikazi Molapo told Business Insider South Africa.
"Results are pending."
Earlier this week, Louw Hoffman, a professor in meat science at the University of Stellenbosch, told Business Insider South Africa that imported MDM may be behind the outbreak of listeriosis in South Africa. More than 180 people has died from the illness in South Africa since January 2017.
MDM, also known as "white slime", is a paste-like poultry product. It is produced by forcing bones with small pieces of chicken attached to them through a sieve under high pressure, to separate bone from the chicken bits. The remaining chicken (still containing small pieces of bone and bone marrow) is then pureed to form a paste that is used in processed meats.
South African imported 202 million kilograms of mechanically deboned chicken last year, most of it from Brazil. In December 2017 alone, 12 million kilograms of this product was imported from Brazil – at a cost of only R4.21 per kilogram, according to the SA Poultry Association. South Africa also imports the product from Thailand, the US and Argentina.
Hoffman told Business Insider that South African polony and viennas most likely contain some of the cheap imported MDM to help keep the cost of the products down, and to ensure affordability of protein for lower-income groups.
Previously, the government reportedly said it was compiling a list of countries (including Brazil) where it was considering a precautionary and temporary ban on the import of foods which could have been contaminated through unhygienic practices.
However, the Brazilian government has slammed any suggestion that its poultry was involved in the crisis.
“There is no evidence to support any connection of Brazilian meat to the current listeriosis crisis in South Africa,” says Bruno Neves, head of the trade and investment section at the embassy of Brazil in Pretoria.
He forwarded Business Insider SA a directive from the department of health, dated 9 January 2018, which advised importers that their meat will be tested for listeria.
“We believe it is unfair and irresponsible to hold Brazilian meat liable for the listeriosis crisis, especially considering the stringent control which Brazilian products are subject to before being exported, not only to South Africa, but to many other countries in the world.”
The Brazilian poultry industry has been making global headlines this week after that country’s police reported widespread fraud at the Brazilian poultry giant BRF SA. Bloomberg reported on Monday that, according to the Brazilian police, five laboratories accredited with the Brazilian government falsified test results on meat samples.
“The motive was to hide poor sanitary conditions and incidences of salmonella above requirements set by certain importers, avoiding sales restrictions and punishments,” the Brazilian authorities said in a statement.
Exports from some BRF SA plants have been halted to countries with specific salmonella-control requirements, including South Africa, Bloomberg reported.
According to the Western Cape department of economic opportunities, South African laboratories expressed concern over food safety in Brazil last year.
“The national department [of agriculture] did send a delegation to Brazil at the time to do inspections and ensure compliance with import requirements,” provincial spokesperson Bianca Capazorio told Business Insider on Tuesday.
The USA temporarily banned meat imports from Brazil in June last year after a "significant proportion of Brazilian meat failed safety tests", the BBC reported at the time.
Receive a single WhatsApp message every morning with all our latest news. Sign up here.