Ready-to-eat processed meat must be returned to the retailers it was bought from and must not be thrown away, said the Health Department’s director of media relations Foster Mohale.
Speaking to Polity he said the department discouraged the public from throwing away the contaminated food, as people could recover the products from rubbish bins.
This follows Sunday’s announcement that government had identified the source of a listeria outbreak that has killed 180 people to be a cold meat product made by the country's biggest consumer foods group, Tiger Brands.
The meat, known as "polony", made by Tiger Brands’ unit Enterprise Food and by RCL Foods, has already been recalled from stores.
Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi revealed that the source of the present outbreak was from the Enterprise Food production facility located in Polokwane.
“The problem is not about getting rid of the products, producers must make sure that products they produce are safe to eat,” Mohale appealed.
He said some stores have allowed customers to return these products irrespective of not having a till slip.
“An investigation is still under way, the department cannot say when is safe to eat the contaminated food again but we will communicate with the public once the investigation is finalised,” Mohale said.
Listeria on the exterior casing (packaging) of polony can be transferred to other products it comes into contact with, including viennas, russians, frankfurters, other sausages, and other ‘cold meat’ products that are typically not cooked before eating.
Pregnant women, neonates, very young infants, elderly people and anyone with a weakened immune system (due to HIV infection, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease, people with transplants and those on immunosuppressive therapy such as oral corticosteroids, chemotherapy, or anti-TNF therapy for auto-immune disease) are at high risk for listeriosis.
Mohale advised consumers to visit their nearest health clinic or doctor if they believe they have been infected.
“The Department of Health cannot say people should stay away from all processed polony, only those from Enterprise because they have admitted that their products have a problem,” he added.
The National Consumer Commission has issued the manufacturers concerned with safety recall notices.
“The recall of these products does not mean that members of the public must now relax and stop the 5 food-safety rules which we have recited many times have to be abandoned,” Motsoaledi warned.
These precautions include washing your hands before handling food or when coming back from the bathroom; making sure that food is well cooked; isolating raw food from cooked food; making sure that food is at an appropriate temperature; and washing non-cooked food with clean running water; as well as using only pasteurised or boiled milk products.