South African Human rights lawyer Richard Spoor is launching a class action lawsuit against Tiger Brands, Enterprise’s parent company, for the listeriosis outbreak.
Speaking on radio 702, Spoor said though there was overwhelming evidence to prove that contamination happened at the company’s food production factory, proving causation for the estimated 1 000 cases of listeriosis would be a challenge.
“Causation is the issue. In other words, can we link the 1 000 odd cases of listeriosis with them? Can we show that their specific case was caused by eating a contaminated product from the Polokwane factory?” Spoor asked.
He said a further challenge would be that, because listeriosis symptoms only become apparent days after consuming a contaminated product, it is possible that the infected people ate a number of other products before falling sick.
“And Tiger Brands is counting on us being unable to demonstrate that the actual foodstuff that caused them to become sick was a product from their factory,” said Spoor.
“91% of the samples of the people who were sick corresponds exactly with the specific genetic makeup of the bacteria that was found at the Polokwane factory. Then we have the distribution pattern of the diseases which mirrors the distribution pattern of their products.”
The food giant denied responsibility for the deadly outbreak of listeriosis, which has claimed 180 lives since late last year.
The department of health had ordered Tiger Brands on March 4, to recall its Enterprise cold meat products and immediately shut down two manufacturing facilities in Polokwane, Limpopo, and Germiston, Gauteng.
The department had detected the same strain of the listeria bacterium (ST6) at both facilities.
Last week, Tiger Brands CEO Lawrence MacDougall insisted during the company’ press briefing that there was no verified evidence at his disposal linking the deaths to Enterprise products.
“There has been no direct correlation between our products and the deaths yet, so we are unaware of any direct link. Listen, I cannot guess as to what the link might be, and all I can confirm at the moment is that there is no link. So there are no links directly [related] to the deaths,” he said.
MacDougall also insisted their facilities surpassed South African safety standards and conformed to European standards.
He added that levels of listeria contamination in their Polokwane facility were below the threshold determined by company health standards.