More than 180 people have died in the largest outbreak ever recorded.
Credit: Foto24 / Getty Images

Nearly 1000 people have been contaminated with listeria in South Africa in what the United Nations has declared the largest listeria outbreak ever recorded, reports Reuters.

In a media statement by the South African Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi, as of March 2 a total of 180 people have died due to the poisoning.

The source of the outbreak is confirmed as a bologna-like food called polony from Tiger Brands’ Enterprise Food production facility in Polokwane. This product is commonly served in schools, and the health ministry told Reuters that the company had been failing to cooperate with officials for months.

According to Grubstreet, which also covered the story, Tiger Brands is the largest packaged-foods manufacturer in Africa, selling everything from energy drinks to cereals.

In his statement, Motsoaledi recommended all members of the public avoid processed meat products sold as ready-to-eat. This is due to potential for cross-contamination of products. Grubstreet reports that many supermarkets have already removed other varieties of Enterprise Food’s processed meats, including bacon and sausage.

Enterprise Foods has also released a statement confirming a full national recall. In addition, they have suspended operations at two of their facilities until further investigation. It goes without saying that if you have any Tiger Brands packaged meat, for any reason, it's safest to discard it.

Panic about the outbreak has spread to other countries, including Namibia, Mozambique, Malawi, Botswana, and Zambia.

Symptoms of listeria are similar to the flu, including high temperatures, vomiting, and diarrhea. Elderly, young children and babies, and people with compromised immune systems are particularly vulnerable to foodborne illness. Anyone who experiences these symptoms and believes they may have come into contact with contaminated foods should seek medical attention.