Minister of Health Dr Chitalu Chilufya says government has imposed an immediate ban on the importation of risky food products like processed meats in a bid to prevent an outbreak of listeriosis.

At a media briefing, Monday, Dr Chilufya said government had directed chain stores like Pick n Pay and Shoprite to remove such risky foods from their shelves.

“The ministry has strengthened port health systems to monitor food imports into the country. In line with SI no. 79 of 2017 and the Food and Drugs Act Chapter 303 of The Laws of Zambia, the Disease Surveillance and Intelligence team as well as Health Inspectors have been directed to diligently investigate all suspicious food products and take appropriate action including destruction of contaminated or suspicious products. The Ministry of Health has put up the following interventions, 1. We have constituted a team of experts, led and coordinated by a Zambian national public health institute to urgently investigate the concerns of listeriosis in the country because Zambia imports a lot of food products listed as risky from South Africa. We have imposed an immediate ban on imports of risky foods, including processed meats, dairy products, vegetables and fruits from South Africa. The points of entry have been instructed to cease all suspected risky products. All chief executive officers of major chain stores in Zambia, that includes Pick n Pay and Shoprite have been engaged and directed to cooperate with health inspectors in the removal and disposal of risky products on their shelves and in their stores,” Dr Chilufya said.

“Active food safety surveillance has been enforced across the country and nationwide public health disease surveillance is being enforced. Laboratory investigations will be carried out at the University Teaching Hospital Microbiology laboratory and that the University of Zambia School of Vetnary Medicine…risk communication to the public through various media platforms on preventative measures which include avoiding eating risky foods including processed ready to eat meat products, soft cheese and pasteurized milk and dairy products.”

He explained some of the symptoms of the disease but stressed that it was preventable and treatable.

“South Africa has been experiencing a foodborne outbreak called Listeriosis since 1st January 2017. A total of 948 laboratory confirmed cases; 659/948 (69.5%) patients traced to their facilities for outcome and 180 (CFR 27%) deaths had been have been reported by 02 March 2018 according to the Media statement by the South African Minister of Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi. Although a serious disease, listeriosis is a treatable and preventable disease. I must hasten to say that Zambia has not recorded any case but has instituted precautionary measures by tasking all our health staff to heighten surveillance, investigate, treat and report all suspected cases timely. Diagnostic capacity to conduct comprehensive investigations on suspected cases presenting with food poisoning, meningitis and septicemia are being strengthened. Listeriosis commonly presenting as food poisoning is caused by bacteria called Listeria monocytogenes. Generally, symptoms include fever, muscle aches, and sometimes nausea or diarrhea,” he stated.

“The common sources of infection include dairy products, meats from infected animals including poultry and vegetables. The outbreak in South Africa has been linked to polony, Russian sausages, viennas, cold meats, ham, meat spreads, corned meat, salami and most refrigerated uncooked foods. In severe cases, the bacteria may spread to the blood stream and nervous system. If it spreads to the nervous system, symptoms such as headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, or convulsions can occur. The disease affects mainly pregnant women, newborns, the elderly and immuno-compromised adults. Infected pregnant women may experience only a mild, flu-like illness and more seriously may cause miscarriages, stillbirths, premature delivery, or life-threatening infection of the newborn.”

He advised citizens to be cautious of risky foods.

“While food products from Enterprise Foods and Rainbow Chicken Facility in South Africa have been implicated as the source of infection, consumers are encouraged to be cautious of risky foods and take all necessary measures as cross contamination could occur to other products. Members of the press and general public let us take extra caution regarding eating risky foods which include processed, ready-to-eat meat products, soft cheeses, and unpasteurized milk and dairy products to prevent this disease. The Government will work within the confines of our Laws and that of the International Health Regulations 2005 to ensure,” said Dr Chilufya.