Public Health Authority warns against food borne infection in South Africa

Following the weekly Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response Committee (IDSR) meeting chaired by the Public Health Commissioner on Tuesday 23rd January 2018, the Public Health Authority (PHA) is informing members of the public of an ongoing outbreak of Listeriosis, a food-borne infection, in South Africa.

“The committee has deduced that the outbreak is persisting in spite of interventions being done,” says Dr Gedeon. “The World Health Organization and Health Authorities in South Africa have noted this outbreak as unprecedented with a higher than usual mortality.”

A significant increase in the number of listeria cases was noted at the start of January 2018, with up to 20 confirmed cases registered over 5 days. Several areas are being affected and these include Johannesburg and Cape Town.

These World Health Organisation (WHO) and Health Authorities in South Africa are working to identify the source of the food contamination and the risk of the disease spreading to other countries has been classed as low.

“Seychelles imports several food products from South Africa and tests for listeria monocytogenes in food can be done at the Public Health Laboratory here,” Dr Gedeon added.

Listeriosis is an infection caused by the bacteria Listeria Monocytogenes. It is transmitted through contaminated food or water. It is mainly associated with the consumption of contaminated ‘Ready-To-Eat’ foods i.e. food which is prepared or cooked in advance, with no further cooking or preparation required before being eaten.

The infection presents in various forms. The most common form of the disease is an acute, self-limiting gastroenteritis which presents with fever and diarrhea. It is usually resolves on its own, within a day or two, without medical intervention. Some infections are serious and infected persons may present with meningitis which is the inflammation of the protective layer covering of the brain. They may also present with bacteraemia (when the bacteria enters the blood).

Certain group of people are more at risk of developing serious illness especially infants, elderly above 65 years and those with weak immune system. Pregnant women are also most at risk as they can develop pregnancy-related complications including miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery and infection of the newborn. It is advisable that persons in these categories avoid travelling to the affected areas.

  • Listeria bacteria are killed by thorough cooking and by temperatures used for pasteurization of milk. Until the origin of listeria contamination is identified, the WHO and PHA recommend that members of the public follow the ‘FIVE KEYS to SAFER FOOD’
  • Wash hands and surfaces before and during food preparation. Wash hands before and after meals.
  • Separate raw and cooked food, and don’t mix utensils and surfaces when preparing 

  • Cook food thoroughly – all bacteria are killed above 70˚C
  • Keep food at safe temperatures – Refrigerate food not being consumed immediately and reheat thoroughly
  • If kept in the fridge it should be consumed within a few days otherwise freeze below minus 18oC. 

  • Use safe water and safe ingredients to prepare food. 

  • When travelling to affected areas avoid eating uncooked food and if it is consumed raw, wash thoroughly with safe running water before consumption.

Foods most often implicated in foodborne outbreaks globally, are:

  • Ready-to-eat deli meats (polonies, ham products, etc) and hot dogs 

  • Refrigerated pâtés or meat spreads 

  • Unpasteurized (raw) milk and dairy products 

  • Soft cheese made with unpasteurized milk, such as, Feta, Brie, Camembert 

  • Refrigerated smoked seafood 

  • Pre-packaged salads