March 5 (UPI) -- A listeria outbreak in South Africa that's caused nearly 1,000 poisonings -- and 180 deaths -- has been traced to processed meats, the government said Monday.
South African Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said Sunday the National Institute for Communicable Diseases found that a single meat processing plant was responsible for the outbreak.
Officials said Polony, a popular type of sausage made at the Polokwane food processing plant of Enterprise Foods, is the source.
Citing the possibility of cross-contamination in stores, the NICD advised consumers to avoid all processed meats and called on stores to remove all meat products and clean display cases with bleach. Any purchaser of meat products was also advised to disinfect home refrigerators.
Officials said the outbreak dates to January 2017, when the first indications of poisoning were noticed. A shortage of equipment to test for listeria led to delays in the investigation.
Rufaro Chatora of the World Health Organization said it recommended that production at the Polokwane plant be stopped entirely.
"There was evidence of huge listeria prevalence, which was confirmed by the NICD," he said.
A breakthrough in the investigation came when nine children, all under the age of five, contracted gastroenteritis. It was determined by environmental health officials that the bacteria was present in the food in their neighborhood.
South Africa's Department of Trade and Industry acknowledged that monitoring standards at factories have dropped.
"It is now up to these companies to set up a recall strategy, and how they will pay for it," said Lionel October. the department's director general.
Countries bordering South Africa have suspended imports of all processed meat products.
Listeriosis can be contracted from contaminated food or close contact with farm animals. Unpasteurized milk, found in many cheeses, and pre-packaged meats can contain the bacteria. Symptoms include high temperature, flu-like symptoms, vomiting and diarrhea.