As expected, South Africa’s high court in Johannesburg has certified the class action lawsuit brought on behalf of victims in the world’s largest listeriosis outbreak against Tiger Brands.

It means that by March of next year, South Africa will see a court drama play out on behalf of all 1,060 victims of listeriosis outbreak including the survivors of the 216 who died.

Individuals do have an “opt-out” option if they want to pursue justice on their own. Otherwise, everyone affected by the massive listeriosis outbreak will be covered just as outlined in the application for the lawsuit.

The class action addresses four categories of outbreak victims. The first group includes people who contracted the disease and survived. The second are those who lost a breadwinner to the listeriosis. Third are those supporting someone who contracted the illness.

The fourth category is children who were struck with listeriosis while a parent was still pregnant with them. The South African listeriosis outbreak was distinguished by its inclusion of almost 100 infants under 28 days old who were infected before birth.

The mortality rate for the outbreak was at least 27 percent. Complete information for all patients might yet push that figure higher.

All the plaintiffs in the class action are being represented by South Africa’s Richard Spoor Incorporated Attorneys against defendant Tiger Brands, one of the country’s top food companies.

According to the World Health Organization, the listeriosis outbreak in South Africa began in 2017 and continued until mid-year 2018. South African Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi gave his country’s processed meats the all clear at a Sept. 4 media briefing.

The Culprit for the outbreak was a processed meat product, similar to bologna and hot dog products in the U.S., that is known as polony in South Africa. Polony is a cheap source of protein, popular with South Africa’s poor.

The outbreak was directly linked to the ready-to-eat meat product from the Tiger Brands-owned Enterprise Foods plant in Polokwane. Environmental swabs tested positive for the outbreak strain from inside the plant.

Tiger Brands exports meat products to at least 15 other countries, which also either recalled or banned imports during the listeriosis outbreak. The 15 other impacted countries were Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nambia, Nigeria, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Polony produced by Tiger Brands was found contaminated at a Soweto daycare center after nine children fell ill.

Lead attorney Richard Spoor says the certification of the class action would not have been as speedy if Tiger Brands had exercised all its options to slow the process.

Spoor says his attorneys are representing the victims on a contingency basis, meaning without charging them. The attorneys will cover the costs and then “recover the money from Tiger Brands.” The trial itself will be a “multimillion-rand” case. (The Rand is legal currency in the Common Monetary Area between South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, and Namibia, although the other three countries do have their own currencies pegged at par with Rand.)

In addition to Bill Marler, the top food safety attorney in the United States, court documents show Spoor’s team has enlisted these experts:

  • Professor David Coetzee of the Division of Public Health Medicine at the School of Public Health and Family Medicine at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. He is a public health specialist with 25 years of experience in infectious diseases.
  • Professor Chris Griffith, an independent consultant on aspects of food quality and safety and editor of the British Food Journal.
  • Kevin Elfering, with Rio Rancho, NM-based Southwest Food Safety Systems, an expert on traceback investigations of food products involved in foodborne illnesses investigations. He previously headed Minnesota’s Food Inspection Division.
  • Professor Jorgen Schlundt of the Food Science and Technology division of Nanyang Technological University; Professor, Food Science and Technology, Nanyang Technological University Director, NTU Food Technology Centre (NAFTEC), Singapore.
  • Dr. Mansour Samadpour, the CEO of IEH Laboratories & Consulting Group.
  • Professor Martin Wiedmann, the Gellert Family Professor in Food Safety of the Department of Food Science at Cornell University.
  • Professor Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota.
  • Professor Craig Hedberg of the Division of Environmental Health Science at the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota.

Marler is also the publisher of Food Safety News.

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Photo of Dan Flynn Dan Flynn

Editor Dan Flynn is a Northern Colorado-based writer and editor with more more than 15 years of food safety experience. As a public affairs professional, he worked with government and regulatory agencies at the local, state, and federal levels. His career as a journalist included working for newspapers throughout the West, from the Black Hills to Seattle. His on-scene reporting on the collapse of the Idaho’s Teton Dam and the suicide bombing at Washington State University’s Perham Hall was carried by newspapers around the world and was recognized both times regionally by the Associated Press for Best Reporting on a Deadline. Most of the disasters he attends these days involve food illnesses.