Tiger Brands, the South African food manufacturer at the centre of one of the worst food-borne disease outbreaks the country has seen, said on Friday that it was doing everything it can to get to the root cause of the listeria bacteria found in its food production plant in Polokwane, Limpopo.

Health minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi announced on Sunday that the source of listeria had been tracked down to an Enterprise Foods factory owned by Tiger Brands in Limpopo, leading to the immediate removal of ready-to-eat meats, including polony, from grocery store shelves.

Enterprise Foods later confirmed receiving a report from the Department of Health which confirmed the presence of the Listeria monocytogenes ST6 (LST6) strain in its Polokwane factory. This followed environmental swabs taken at the factory at the beginning of last month.

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At least 180 people have reportedly died from Listeriosis disease in South Africa since early last year.

Tiger Brands chief executive Lawrence MacDougall said that they were directing all their efforts, energy and time to determine how this could have occurred.

“We are doing everything we can to get to the root cause of LST6 being found in our Polokwane plant. We have appointed a team of local and international scientific experts. Our Polokwane and Germiston factories remain closed whilst we conduct a deep cleaning process,” MacDougall said in a statement.

“The health and safety of our customers is our number one priority. I am deeply concerned by the detection of LST6 in our factory. Together with our staff, business partners and the relevant authorities we are working to mitigate any further risks to consumers.”

MacDougall said Tiger Brands had recalled the majority of all products from retail outlets. He said that these were removed with dedicated trucks and were being kept in a quarantine warehouse awaiting disposal by incineration.

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“We are well advanced in the national recall of all ready-to-eat chilled processed meat products, which we initiated on Sunday. We will leave no stone unturned to get to the bottom of this to ensure it does not happen again,” MacDougall said.

“We acknowledge and recognise that we are dealing with a national crisis which has impacted customers, consumers and the industry. Tiger Brands wants to be at the forefront of finding a solution.”

– African News Agency (ANA), Editing by Lindiz van Zilla