SOUTH AFRICA – South Africa’s packaged goods company, Tiger Brands in partnership with Stellenbosch University has launched the first Centre for Food Safety in the country.

Formation of the centre comes in the aftermath of a deadly listeria outbreak in the country said to have originated from Tiger Brands’ Polokwane processed meat factory.

According to Tiger Brands, the centre for food safety will play a leading role in consumer education on food-related issues.

The company would invest US$714,018.00 (R10m) in the project, which it described as the ‘first of its kind in South Africa’.

The company has invited other industry stakeholders to join the centre as well.

“This centre, is a one-of-a-kind applied food science research consortium founded by Stellenbosch University and the food industry – with Tiger Brands as its founding member. The Centre for Food Safety will work closely with government in ensuring science-based food safety regulations are met.”

Tiger Brands Chairman Dr Khotso Mokhele said: “A more collaborative approach between industry, regulators, government and academia is required to drive sustainable solutions in food safety.”

Lawrence Mac Dougall, CEO of the company, said the center will play an important role in driving food safety forward across the industry, both in South Africa and the region at large.

“When food systems fail, their consequences are extremely costly – for public health, consumers, food producers and the economy in general. With the global increase in the prevalence of foodborne diseases, science-based food controls are essential for the protection of food products and consumers,” he said.

Speaking to 702, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer at Tiger brands, Mary-Jane Morifi, said that something needed to be done after a Listeriosis was found at one of the company’s sites.

“We feel that for a company of its size and that complies with all the food safety standards to find itself in a situation where Listeria was found on our site that something needed to be done, and it needed to be done through a multi-sectoral forum that would look at improving the standards through research that would ensure that South Africa would not find itself in this situation again.

“What we are proposing and putting forward is this holistic look that involves all of the stakeholders to ensure that there is academic research that influences policy and educates and creates awareness among citizens. We are putting forward a holistic look that involves all of the stakeholders to ensure that there is academic research that influences policy and educates and creates awareness among citizens,” Morifi added.

Trusted academics will make use of research gathered from the Listeriosis outbreak to form policies and regulations to add to current food safety regulations.

The outcomes from the Centre will be shared with all the industry stakeholders, while food companies who join the Centre will provide funding and share their industry insights and knowledge with the Centre and the industry at large.

Last month, Tiger Brands re-opened a facility that was closed due to the outbreak.

The processing facility at Germinston, run by its subsidiary Enterprise Foods, was closed in March along with another facility at Polokwane and an abattoir in Clayville after they were found to be the sources of the deadly bacteria.

However, a recent report by the University of Pretoria indicated that some of the affected products still indicate positive for Listeria, especially those in small spaza shops, or informal retail outlets, that dot South Africa’s urban low income and rural areas.

Professor Wilhelm Holtzapel, President of the International Commission of Food Microbiology and Hygiene; Professor Mieke Uyttendaele, food safety and food quality expert from the University of Gent; Stephen Forsythe, professor of microbiology at Nottingham Trent University; and Pier Sandro Cocconcelli, professor of food microbiology at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore (UCSC) in Italy will provide guidance to the Centre’s operations.

“We aim to provide stakeholders with the opportunity to develop and exchange knowledge, experience, and expertise in food safety, food defense and food processing. We have a mandate to work across all faculties and disciplines within Stellenbosch and other entities, institutes, national and international higher education institutions, and public and private enterprises in South Africa and abroad,” said the Acting Director for the new Centre, Professor Pieter Gouws, adding that it will play a role in consumer education on food safety related issues in the country.

“Africa has the highest incidence of food-related diseases and associated deaths amongst all age groups. Food-related diseases also have a significant impact on consumer health and the viability of the food industry and associated businesses. With this in mind, the need for a center dedicated to food safety is more important than ever before,” he reiterated.

“We have learned this painfully in our country through the many who have fallen victim to the outbreak. We must work collectively and with a strong multi-sectorial approach – which includes the private sector, government, academia and civil society – to ensure that something like this never happens again in our country,” added Lawrence Mac Dougall, the CEO Tiger Brands.

The Listeriosis outbreak, which impacted over 1000 people with a reported over 200 fatalities, was the largest in the World, according to the World Health Organisation.

Tiger Brands reported a 37% drop in its profits in its last financial year, partly blamed on the recalls due to the Listeria outbreak.