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Bologna causes world’s deadliest listeria outbreak

By RACHEL HUANG | April 12, 2018




Bolongna, like many other processed meats, contains high nitrate levels

For the past 15 months, a listeria outbreak has washed through South Africa with 982 recorded cases and has killed about 189 people. 

Bologna, commonly known as “polony” in South African English, is a popular food originally from Bologna, Italy. 

Despite the fact that it is a common ingredient in pasta, sandwiches and sometimes even soup, bologna, like all other processed meats, is actually very unhealthy.

Nitrites, which are used as preservatives in processed meats, can be bad when taken in large quantities. 

Under certain conditions, they can even damage cells and cause cancer.

A two ounce serving of bologna contains 530 milligrams of sodium, about a fourth of the recommended daily intake. High sodium levels in the blood is known as hyponatremia with symptoms including nausea, dehydration and fatigue along with other more severe cases. 

But, despite these negative health effects, nothing is as bad as the possibility of contracting listeria upon consumption. 

According to the New York Times, city officials in South Africa were able to track the source that caused several listeriosis cases in the area back to a daycare center’s refrigerator. This discovery in turn led to an investigation on Tiger Brands’ Enterprise Foods facility in Polokwane, the capital of the Limpopo province, South Africa. 

According to the authorities, traces of the LST6 listeria strain were found to have contaminated the factory and therefore its processed meats. 

Listeria is a bacterium commonly found in water, animals and soil. Unlike many other bacterial microbes, listeria can grow in cold, even freezing, temperatures and can therefore affect a wide range of foods. However, listeria can be killed by pasteurization and cooking.

Listeriosis is an infection that occurs by consuming foods contaminated by the Listeria monocytogenes bacterium. It is most detrimental to pregnant women, older adults and those with a weakened immune system. 

Symptoms associated with listeriosis include fever, confusion, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness and, in more extreme cases, convulsions, infection of the blood (septicemia) and infection of the brain (meningitis). 

With an incubation period of three to 70 days, the disease is likely to proliferate, according to officials’ expectations. Although bologna was widely consumed, it wasn’t the only product associated with the outbreak. Viennas, Kielbasa, frankfurters and several other sausages and cold meats may be affected due to cross-contamination in the processing facility.

The listeria outbreak is recorded as the world’s largest known outbreak so far. 

“Surveillance is a critical but neglected piece of health systems,” Louise Ivers, a Global Health professor at Harvard University said, according to the New York Times. “Without the resources and lab infrastructure, countries are left reacting: reacting to cholera, reacting to Ebola, reacting to listeria.” 

The National Consumer Commission has issued recall notices to develop a recall plan that will cover the distribution chains of the facility.

Despite implementing recalls of processed products, Tiger Brands’ Enterprise Foods is still receiving criticism from the community.

Richard Spoor, a South African lawyer, along with 70 others affected by the outbreak, has filed for a $2 billion lawsuit against Tiger Brands.

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