Listeriosis: Case against Tiger Brands 'is overwhelming'
Of 158 factories tested, only Polokwane site had deadly ST6 strain. Now class action lawsuit looms
The case against Tiger Brands, which made the polony and sausages that caused just under 1,000 cases of listeriosis, is now “overwhelmingly strong”, said class action lawyer Richard Spoor.
He was speaking after Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi announced on Monday that health inspectors had visited every single cold meat factory – a total of 158 facilities.
Environmental and food samples were taken from each of the factories. Only the Tiger Brands Polokwane factory had the ST6 strain of listeria.
“This means there is no other cause of the outbreak except the Polokwane ready-to-eat meat factory,” said Motsoaledi .
ST6 is the strain of listeria bacteria that caused 91% of all cases of listeriosis since an outbreak was declared in December 2017. A total of 1,060 people contracted the disease, of whom 216 people died, making it the world’s deadliest outbreak of listeriosis.
Motsoaledi announced the end of the outbreak on Monday because no new listeriosis cases caused by the ST6 strain have been reported since June.
Spoor, a lawyer who is part of the class action suit against Tiger Brands, said the fact that there was no other source of ST6, made their evidence “overwhelming”.
“If a claimant had listeria and their sample was genetically sequenced and they had ST6, they are home and dry.”
In just over 600 listeria cases, the samples of the bacteria were genetically sequenced and 91% of those samples were the ST6 strain found in Tiger Brands factory.
The other 480 listeria cases did not have samples genetically sequenced to determine the strain that caused the illness.Spoor said lawyers representing the listeria victims and Tiger Brands are in the process of agreeing to a class action lawsuit.
A court has to allow a class action case to go ahead. Tiger Brands could oppose the class action case and months could be spent arguing in court about whether a judge should allow it.
However the biggest glitch in getting the class action rubber-stamped by the court is that the lawyers need to contact every claimant. This is every person who had listeria, or the deceased person’s relatives.
He hoped to get the details from the Health Department but has not requested it yet.
Tiger Brands spokesperson Nevashnee Naiker said: “There is a court process which is being followed and a ruling will eventually be made. Nonetheless, as a responsible company which prioritises consumers above all else, we have been working closely with the lawyers acting for the claimants for the class action to help certify the class action, and thereby, to expedite the process. In so doing, we hope to bring closure to all affected parties in the shortest possible time.”
Naiker confirmed that the Health minister was correct when he said that no one was able to find out how listeria ST6 entered the factory.
“The scientists have advised that we may never find out how listeria entered our facility.”
To date more than 5,000 tons of ready-to-eat meat have been destroyed or will be destroyed, with the disposal of polony expected to end in October.
The cost of the Department of Health’s listeria response, including testing patient samples, food samples and visiting 158 factories, came to R12m.