Listeriosis crisis: Tiger shares plunge as factory blamed for deadly outbreak

JOHANNESBURG — Food maker Tiger Brands was hammered on the JSE on Monday as one of the company’s factories grappled with being the source of a deadly listeriosis outbreak that’s so far killed around 180 people. What’s worrying about this outbreak is that it’s described as the largest of its kind in the world, according to the United Nations. – Gareth van Zyl

By Paul Burkhardt

(Bloomberg) — Tiger Brands Ltd. dropped the most in more than two years after the South African company’s processed meat products were identified as a source of the listeriosis outbreak that’s killed 180 people.

Africa’s largest packaged food maker has been ordered to recall Enterprise brand ready-to-eat products and has suspended operations at two plants, the Johannesburg-based company said Sunday. The South African government identified the Polokwane Enterprise plant, in the northeast of the country, as the source of the deadly outbreak, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said.

The listeriosis outbreak in South Africa was believed to be the largest ever of the disease linked to food poisoning, the United Nations health agency said in January. There were 948 confirmed cases as of March 2, Motsoaledi said Sunday.

Consumers are advised to remove “any Enterprise ready-to-eat products from their fridges and place them in a plastic bag away from other products,” Chief Executive Officer Tiger Brands Lawrence MacDougall said in a statement.

Tiger Brand shares fell as much as 13 percent, the most since December 2015, and traded 6.6 percent lower at 9:50 a.m. in Johannesburg. RCL Foods Ltd., which is also suspending production and recalling some products, declined 1.3 percent.

Listeriosis is a disease caused by the bacterium listeria monocytogenes, with pregnant women, newborns, elderly and people with weakened immune systems most susceptible. Tiger Brands has been ordered to recall products including its Enterprise polony, a ready-to-eat form of finely ground meat, and frankfurters.

RCL said it was taking the precautionary measures of suspending production of its Rainbow Polony brand and is in the process of recalling the products. An investigation of RCL’s Wolwehoek production facility is under way, after some polony products tested positive for listeria, although not the type identified as being responsible for the outbreak, the company said.

Polony products can transfer listeria from their exterior packaging to frankfurters, other sausages and similarly processed products that are typically not cooked before eating, Motsoaledi said.

Tiger Brands has upgraded testing for listeria and introduced additional hygiene monitoring since the confirmed outbreak in December 2017, the company said. It said Sunday afternoon that its tests hadn’t yet confirmed the ST6 strain, which has driven the outbreak, although further tests were being conducted.

The company is upgrading cleaning and sanitation measures, it said in a statement Monday.