Calm down, calm down, not all cold meat has listeria
Listeria or other foodborne pathogens don't care whether something is organic, natural, MDM or prime fillet
“Listeriosis outbreaks result from listeria contamination in a food-processing factory – the quality of the ingredients has nothing to do with it.”
So says Bill Marler, the American food safety attorney who has joined forces with South African law firm Richard Spoor Incorporated to file a class action lawsuit against Tiger Brands, on behalf of the families of those who died after eating listeria-contaminated “cold meats” processed by its Enterprise plant in Polokwane, as well as those who got listeriosis and survived.
Marler and his Seattle-based firm have handled thousands of food outbreak cases around the world in the past 25 years, with about $650-million being awarded to the victims and their families.In every one of the listeriosis cases he’d worked on, Marler said, the foods – including cheese, lettuce, deli meats and pasteurised milk – were contaminated with the potentially lethal bacterium on food contact surfaces in the processing plant.
“In my experience, it’s never in a raw ingredient.”
In fact, Marler said, in the US many of the listeriosis outbreaks he’s dealt with recently were not related to major industrial plants, but rather those companies which think that because they produce organic, non-GMO, “safe”, “healthy” food, they couldn’t possibly have a listeria problem. “They think that the rules of bacteriology don’t apply to them.”
Similar sentiment is being expressed in South Africa in the wake of the revelation that the source of our listeriosis outbreak – the world’s worst – is Tiger Brand’s Enterprise factory in Polokwane.
Enterprise polony, russians and frankfurters were on the recall list, along with Rainbow chicken colony, but Tiger Brands quickly recalled their entire Enterprise ready-to-eat range.
Foods such as cold meats, along with the likes of cheese, fruit and vegetables, are high risk when it comes to listeria, as consumers don’t heat or cook them before eating.
A Cape-based producer of a range of grass fed, “unadulterated”, free range meat products tweeted at the weekend: “None of our products, including our cocktail beef Frankfurters, have ever contained MDM (mechanically deboned meat which is the polite way to describe crushed chicken carcasses) or soya which are the primary ingredients in the processed ‘meat’ in the media.”
The MDM scare began with a report quoting a meat scientist as claiming that the country’s listeriosis outbreak “may have been” triggered by chicken paste known as “white slime” imported from Brazil, where, according to the report, “listeriosis remains an under-diagnosed and under-reported infection as it is not a compulsorily notifiable disease in that country”.
The Brazilian Embassy in South Africa called the report irresponsible and deceptive, saying that there had been no recent reports of listeria in Brazilian meat.
And Tiger Brands’ spokesman Nevashnee Naicker said of the 15,000 tons of MDM imported into SA per month from Brazil and Europe, Tiger Brands used about 1,000 and did not sell it on.
But the claim that MDM is the listeria source in polony is nonsensical in any event, because polony’s ingredients are heated in its manufacture, thus killing any listeria present.
The contamination happens post-production in the plant.
But the fact that MDM-containing polony has become synonymous with South Africa's tragic listeriosis outbreak has sparked a widespread backlash against all processed food.
“Many people seem to be climbing on the bandwagon and implying that because this outbreak is linked to processed cold meats, all processed foods are inherently bad and that your risk is increased because processed foods are often made with ‘dodgy’ ingredients,” says Professor Gunnar Sigge, head of Stellenbosch University’s food science department.
“But polony and viennas, for example, can be made in a variety of ways,” he says. “In European countries such as Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Hungary, processed meat products are delicacies made from top-quality ingredients.”MDM was “perfectly safe and nutritious”, Sigge said. “The process of recovering meat which is still attached to bone doesn’t sound wonderful, but the end-product is only recovered meat, not bone, feathers or feet.
“It’s not the ingredients of the processed meat which are to blame for this listeriosis crisis – whether the sausage is made with top-quality ingredients or cheap ones, if the equipment wasn’t cleaned properly or the product was cooled in contaminated water afterwards or packed in crates that hadn’t been properly washed – they would be contaminated.”
Listeria or other foodborne pathogens don’t discriminate on whether something is organic, natural, MDM or prime fillet, Sigge said.
Many consumers are also failing to grasp the “listeria is killed by heat” message, spreading scaremongering, misinformed Facebook posts such as: “Please get rid of polony, viennas, frozen and imported chicken, chicken nuggets and patties. Watch your crumbed chicken products....if its not Cornish, culls or South African grown fresh chicken GET RID OF IT. Watch your 2kg source of chicken.”
The fact is that meat that is cooked before eating is not a listeria risk. Wherever it comes from.