JOHANNESBURG, March 4 (Reuters) - South Africans were told not to consume "ready to eat" processed meat on Sunday as the government linked a listeria outbreak which has killed 180 people to a sausage meat made by the country's biggest consumer foods group.
The meat, known as "Polony", made by Tiger Brands unit Enterprise Food and by RCL Foods, would be recalled from stores, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said.
"We advise members of the public to avoid all processed meat products that are sold as ready-to-eat," Motsoaledi said.
Tiger Brands said it was cooperating with authorities, while RCL Foods said it would issue a statement soon.
Motsoaledi said although RCL Foods had not been identified as a source of the outbreak, a facility owned by the firm was under investigation. Inquiries were ongoing at a second facility run by Enterprise Foods to establish if it too had contributed.
Listeria, which causes flu-like symptoms, nausea, diarrhoea, infection of the blood stream and brain, has led to 180 fatalities and 948 reported cases since January 2017.
"We can now conclude scientifically that the source of the present outbreak is the Enterprise Food production facility located in Polokwane," Motsoaledi told a briefing at the offices of the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD).
"We are all extremely concerned by listeriosis – we all want to find the source or sources of listeriosis, together with the government," Nevashnee Naicker, a Tiger Brands spokeswoman, said.
The minister said the National Consumer Commission had issued Enterprise Foods and RCL Foods with orders to recall their food products distributed locally or for export.
"We are committed to ensuring that all Enterprise products, as identified, will be recalled as part of the directive received," Naicker added.
Motsoaledi said due to the risk of cross-contamination of other ready-to-eat processed meat products, Viennas, Russians, Frankfurters, sausages, and other "cold meat" products that are typically not cooked before eating posed a risk.
South African supermarket operator Pick n Pay said it had withdrawn the meat products from its shelves.
"We are urgently withdrawing them from our stores," Tamra Capstick-Dale, said in a statement on behalf of the grocer.
"All fridges and food preparation areas in our stores will now be re-cleaned to prevent any cross-contamination. Recalled meat is being isolated and will be safely destroyed."
Listeriosis poses a higher risk for newborns, the elderly, pregnant women, and persons with weak immunity, he said. (Reporting by James Macharia Editing by Alexander Smith)