South Africa is dealing with the world’s largest ever Listeriosis outbreak. The LST6 strain of listeria monocytogenes has, to date, claimed over 180 lives, with almost 1,000 cases confirmed.

Following an investigation by South African EHPs and technical advisors from the World Health Organisation (WHO), the source of the year long outbreak has now been traced to a ready-to-eat (RTE) processed meat product, called Polony, produced by one South Africa’s largest food companies. This has led to products being recalled, the closing of factories and meat processing plants, and thousands of tons of contaminated food being discarded.

With this serious news making headlines across the globe, it is imperative that food producers, distributors and restaurateurs are aware of what causes Listeriosis and what can be done to avoid the spread of this harmful disease.

Listeriosis is caused by eating fresh produce such as:

  • Ready-to-eat deli meats and hot dogs
  • Refrigerated pâtés or meat spreads
  • Unpasteurised (raw) milk and dairy products
  • Soft cheese made with unpasteurised milk, such as queso fresco, Feta, Brie, Camembert
  • Refrigerated smoked seafood
  • Raw sprouts

Often these products have a long shelf life if stored under chilled conditions. The main difference with Listeria bacteria is that it can grow at fridge temperatures, albeit slowly. However, because of the long shelf life, even the slow growth is significant.

According to WHO, foodborne Listeriosis is one of the most serious and severe of all foodborne diseases. Although the number of cases of Listeriosis is small, the high death rate associated with this infection makes it a significant public health concern. In addition, Listeriosis can cause meningitis and abortions.

It is therefore vital that Listeria Monocytogenes is controlled at all stages of the food chain. Food producers, distributors, retailers and restaurateurs must implement effective food safety management systems based on HACCP principles, with strict hygiene, health and safety practices in place.

Peter Christopher-Ohrt, Managing Director Technical Services, Food Alert Ltd, comments: “

If you are a food manufacturer you must have a microbiological sampling programme in place which includes Listeria. Justyna who heads up our Scientific Hub can help and advise you on sampling programmes and arranging microbiological testing.

In terms of Listeriosis prevention at restaurants, the best course of action is to keep your fridges working below 5oC, make sure any unpasteurised soft cheeses, pâtés and smoked fish are purchased from approved suppliers and to keep their shelf lives as short as possible.”

For further information and expert advice on Listeriosis and how best to manage your food hygiene standards, then please contact us on 020 7244 1900 or via email at

We are always looking for talented people to join the Food Alert team, so if you are interested then either visit our careers page to see available jobs or send your CV to




Food Safety


Food Alert