By News24 and Zimbabwe Digital News
It’s ground zero for South Africa’s Tiger Brands company: They own Enterprise Foods, whose Polokwane operation was identified as the source of the Listeriosis outbreak.
It has sparked a mass recall of products from supermarket shelves. “Ready-to-eat” meats have been identified as the main cause of the disease, and customers are being urged to return their goods safely to the stores.
However, the financial implications have been huge for Tiger Brands. Over the weekend, Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi declared Enterprise as the “ground-zero” of Listeriosis, which has so far claimed 180 lives in 948 reported cases.
Tiger Brands started the day with a market cap worth R81.6 billion. They closed trading on Monday worth R74.7 billion. That is a drop of almost R7 billion rand, and 7% of their total market value.
At the start of Monday 5 March, they opened at a price of 42,500. By 16:50 on the same day, that figured had plummeted. They will now open on 39,338 on Tuesday 6 March.
Tiger Brands CEO Lawrence MacDougall was in damage control mode at a press conference on Monday. He claimed that a team of experts were now working with the business to “get to the bottom of the outbreak”, and that he and his staff are doing everything they can to help.
The World Health Organisation has said South Africa’s Listeria outbreak, with nearly 750 confirmed cases, is believed to be the largest-ever outbreak of the bacterial disease listeriosis.
The second largest outbreak of listeriosis was in 2011, when the United States had a total of 147 reported cases. Prior to that, Italy had a large occurrence in 1997.
“Infants are often a high target of this bacteria,” said Christian Lindmeier, spokesperson for the World Health Organisation, adding that “newborns are about 40% of the infected people”.
Lindmeier said the three-week incubation period makes it difficult to establish the source and thus, tough to prevent.
“You wouldn’t know what you ate three weeks ago – maybe the one particular food that made you sick three or four weeks later – this is the big challenge we face in this situation,” he said.
Lindmeier said South Africans were called upon to practice WHO’s “Five Keys to Safer Food” programme that included washing hands before and often during food preparation; separating raw meat, poultry and seafood from other foods; and cooking foods thoroughly, especially meat, poultry, eggs and seafood.
Lindmeier underscored the importance for those with weakened immune systems – including the elderly and people living with HIV and cancer – and pregnant women, “who are 20 times more likely to get Listeriosis than other healthy adults,” to exercise care.
“We have a total now of 748 laboratory-confirmed cases, but then again, this is difficult because many cases may not be even reported,” he said, adding that cases have been found in all socio-economic backgrounds since the outbreak was declared on 5 December.
“And that’s important because listeriosis is such a big challenge because it is not just the health sector that is involved, it involves all sectors – the food industry, farming – and to find the source is really difficult, simply because the incubation period is so long,” said Lindmeier.
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