Sovereign Foods, a poultry abattoir that was suspected to be the cause of the fatal listeria outbreak, has been granted permission to operate again after it was shut down by the City of Tshwane and the department of health in December.
The abattoir, based in Hartbeespoort, was shut down after food samples linked to a case of listeriosis had been traced to a Pretoria shop the abattoir supplies.
Samples from the abattoir, tested by the National Health Laboratory Services, came back positive for the listeria bacteria.
But Sovereign Foods threatened litigation and challenged the findings of the laboratory tests, claiming independent tests on samples from the same batch had proved negative.
Based on further tests, the city’s health and social development department lifted the prohibition on Monday in terms of Section 4 (5) Regulations Governing General Hygiene Requirements of Food.
“The premises comply with the requirements and is hereby granted permission to resume with food preparation,” the removal of the prohibition notice read.
“Effective monitoring of the premises by weekly sampling of surfaces and good hygiene practices should be adhered to,” the notice added.
At a press conference on Monday, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said the department could not conclude that the abattoir was the source of the current listeria bacteria outbreak, which has already claimed 61 deaths.
“Public health officials have not isolated listeria bacterium in the latest samples of our plant, and as a result, they are willing to lift the prohibition notice,” Sovereign Foods head of production Blaine van Rensburg said.
“We are pleased that the prohibition has been lifted and the abattoir has been cleared.”
Despite being cleared of the fatal bacteria, the abattoir would strengthen steps to ensure their products are safer than they already are.
To ensure continued hygiene, Van Rensburg said the abattoir would install several new carcass washing points.
“It is important to note that South African law does not stipulate how, how often or with what you are required to wash carcasses.
Typically, you would expect to see a carcass washer after defeathering and in the evisceration line as a part of the process.
“Additional points would generally be considered above requirements. “We are now introducing five more washing points – a first for South Africa,” Van Rensburg said.