As the Listeriosis outbreak worsens, at least 61 people have already died from the food-borne disease, with hundreds of others infected.
Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi says there have been 727 laboratory-confirmed cases since January 2017 and 61 confirmed deaths.
Most of the confirmed infections are in Gauteng (61%), followed by the Western Cape at 13% and kwaZulu-Natal at 7%.
The department has now made Listeriosis a notifiable disease. This means health workers will have to report all cases, and complete case investigation forms for patients, submitting them to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICA).
DNA sequencing has concluded that the strain of Listeriosis, S6, points to a single source of food contamination causing the outbreak, and investigations are continuing to isolate the source.
Although the department closed down a Tshwane abattoir last month that was found to test positive for the Listeria monocytogenes, these were different from the strain causing the outbreak so it cannot be confirmed as the source.
Motsoaledi says the National Department of Health has formally requested food industry stakeholders to submit details of Listeria-positive food items, environmental swabs and Listeria isolates to the NICO.
Work has also commenced on implementation of plan for inspection of food processing facilities including packaging at distribution plants for bigger retailers and inspected by Environmental Health Practitioners from municipalities initially within most affected provinces and samples taken to assess the quality of the processing systems.
Meanwhile, a multisectoral outbreak response team (MNORT) led by the National Department of Health, and includes the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery (DAFF), the Department of Trade and Industry, the NICO and other relevant stakeholders will continue to monitor and coordinate the outbreak response activities.
Mosoaledi urges South Africans to practice basic food hygiene principles:
* Keep clean: wash your hands before handling food and often during food preparation.
* Separate raw and cooked: separate raw meat, poultry and seafood from other foods.
* Cook thoroughly: cook foods thoroughly, especially meat, poultry, eggs and seafood.
* Keep food at safe temperatures: refrigerate and reheat foods correctly.
* Use safe water and raw materials: use safe water or make it safe (by boiling); choose foods processed for safety such as pasteurised dairy products; wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly , especially if eaten raw.
Babies, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems are particularly vulnerable to Listeriosis. However, statistics reveal that small babies are most at risk.
The department’s programme, MomConnect, communicates with the approximately 1,2-million pregnant women in South Africa, and will help to inform them about Listeriosis and how to avoid it..