March 9, 2018 / 3:20 PM / 7 months ago

South Africa's Tiger Brands calls in experts to identify listeria cause

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African food producer Tiger Brands said on Friday it had appointed an expert team to identify the causes of a listeria outbreak that has killed 180 people in the past 14 months and which has been traced to one of its factories.

A worker pulls a trolley after removing processed meat products at a Pick n Pay Store in Johannesburg, South Africa, March 5, 2018. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

The U.N. World Health Organization this week called the outbreak the largest ever recorded globally, after more than 900 cases were reported since January 2017.

The government, which has been criticized for taking too long to find the cause, on Sunday linked the outbreak to a meat product known as “polony” - a cheap form of protein consumed by lower-income South Africans - made by Tiger’s Enterprise Food.

Tiger Brands said in a statement that it had received a report from the department of health on Thursday which confirmed the presence of the LST6 listeria strain at its factory in the northern city of Polokwane.

“We are well advanced in the national recall of all ready-to-eat chilled processed meat products, which we initiated on Sunday,” it said.

“We have appointed a team of local and international scientific experts to attempt (to) identify the root cause of LST6.”

The government news service said that as of Thursday, 967 cases of liseriosis had been confirmed by lab tests in South Africa since Jan. 1 last year.

The disease causes flu-like symptoms, nausea, diarrhea and infection of the blood stream and brain.

Reporting by Ed Stoddard; Editing by Alexander Smith

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