Asian countries are now on red alert over possible future contamination of food products with listeria or salmonella, particularly due to recent growing incidences of contamination in imported food products.
In late January, Vietnam received a warning on another 99 batches of baby formula products from French-based Lactalis over possible salmonella contamination, barely 2 months after the scandal-hit company ordered a global recall. Vietnam imported Lactalisí range of Celia products for expectant mothers and child and since December 2017, the country had already imported some 20,000 Lactalis products on the warning list.
This has been the 3rd notification received by Vietnamís Ministry of Health since December from the International Network of Food Safety Authorities (INFOSAN), bringing the total number of contaminated products to 33, packed in 153 batches.
The French dairy giant, Lactalis Group, is one of the largest food manufacturers in the world, specialising in the production of dairy and baby formula products. A company spokesperson admitted that as much as 7,000 tonnes of formula had been contaminated, however, the company could not ascertain how much has been sold, consumed, or still remained in stocks worldwide. The source of the contamination could be traced at the evaporation stage which is used to turn the liquid milk into powder form at one of its factory in Craon, in northwest of France.
The problem of contamination did not end there. One of ASEANís biggest trade partner, Australia recently experienced a Listeria outbreak with more than 17 people affected including 2 deaths, all traced to rockmelons produced by Rombola Family Farms based in Nericon in southwest NSW. The contaminated rockmelons were recalled on 28 February and NSW Food Authority will impose additional regulatory actions to improve food safety.
Listeriosis is a serious infection as around one third of those who fall ill with listeriosis die every year. Due to this seriousness, many countries around Asia including New Zealand that imported rockmelons from Australia have ordered that the fruits, purchased from January to end of February, to be disposed from supermarket shelves. In Singapore, the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) of Singapore has recalled all rockmelons from Australia pending clarification on their source. It has taken samples of locally sold rockmelons for tests with results pending, and so far there has been no cases of listeriosis linked to the fruit in the country. Hong Kong has also done the same for rockmelons imported from Australia.
Meanwhile, at the same time, South Africa is experiencing the world's worst-ever Listeria outbreak with 948 cases and at least 180 deaths since the outbreak started in January 2017. It took the authorities more than a year to trace the outbreak, which the government recently found to be linked to a meat factory belonging to Enterprise Foods, owned by South African food giant Tiger Brands. Singapore has confirmed that it did not import meat and meat products from Enterprise Foods.
Listeria bacteria are found in the environment, and can contaminate raw or ready-to-eat food and fresh produce, as such food manufacturers and distributors must adopt serious hygiene practices while handling or distributing the products. In the case of fruits and vegetables, removing adhering dirt is essential when they are processed as contamination is often a result of serious lapse in irrigation, handling or storage hygiene.