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Publisher’s Platform: Tiger Brands back in hot seat; recalls millions of cans of vegetables

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Publisher’s Platform: Tiger Brands back in hot seat; recalls millions of cans of vegetables

According to South African press reports, Tiger Brands, South Africa’s biggest food manufacturer, announced yesterday that it is immediately recalling about 20 million Koo and Hugo’s canned vegetable products that were produced from May 1, 2019, to May 5, 2021, over safety concerns due to potentially defective cans.

The issue with the cans, which is a deficient side seam weld that could cause the cans to leak, was initially discovered in May this year with 18 cans at one of Tiger Brand’s facilities. The cans came from a supplier. While that batch and several others weren’t released for trade, a probe determined that some cans from a defective batch did. It did a test and out of 287 040 cans inspected after a transport and handling test, a side seam leak had developed in two cans. This prompted the recall.

No illnesses have been reported to date.  Although, it is unknown if botulism is a reportable disease in South Africa.

Although not mentioned in the Tiger press release below, defective cans have the potential to be contaminated with Clostridium botulinum, a bacterium which can cause life-threatening illness or death. Consumers are therefore warned not to use the product even if it does not look or smell spoiled.

Botulism, a potentially fatal form of food poisoning, can cause the following symptoms: general weakness, dizziness, double-vision and trouble with speaking or swallowing. Difficulty in breathing, weakness of other muscles, abdominal distension and constipation may also be common symptoms. People experiencing these problems should seek immediate medical attention.

According to financial reports, Tiger Brands wiped more than R1bn off its market value after recalling millions of canned vegetable products on Monday in the latest food safety concern for a company that is still reeling from the discovery of the deadly Listeria strain at its meat processing factory.

The National Consumer Commission on Monday said it would only rest once all Tiger Brands’ defective canned vegetable products were removed from the market and consumers got their refunds.

Full Tiger Brands press release:

TIGER BRANDS LIMITED – Withdrawal of canned vegetable products 

Withdrawal of canned vegetable products

TIGER BRANDS LIMITED

(“Tiger Brands” or “the Company”)

(Incorporated in the Republic of South Africa)

(Registration number 1944/017881/06)

Share code: TBS

ISIN: ZAE000071080

WITHDRAWAL OF CANNED VEGETABLE PRODUCTS

Shareholders are referred to the interim results announcement of 20 May 2021, which included disclosure in respect of defective packaging materials identified at one of the Company’s sites. This related specifically to a small number (18) of leaking food cans which had been identified by Tiger Brands’ Groceries division during May 2021, as part of its internal quality assurance processes.

These defective cans were identified prior to the final labelling of the finished products and were traced back to three different batches of cans which had been purchased from one of the division’s key packaging suppliers. This incident was immediately reported to the packaging supplier.

Shortly after reporting this incident to the packaging supplier, we were notified by the supplier that a further three batches of cans could have presented the same defect, which was a deficient side seam weld that could cause the cans to leak.

The six defective batches referred to above were the subject of the disclosure made by the Company on 20 May 2021. It is important to note that all the affected finished products manufactured, using these six defective batches of cans, were never released to the trade, and were placed in quarantine for further investigation, with the knowledge and agreement of the packaging supplier.

After the initial identification of the six batches containing defective cans, a full investigation of all cans sourced from this supplier was initiated. In the early part of June 2021, the investigation identified a further small quantity of leaking cans in the finished goods warehouse. These were unlabeled finished product and, as a result, had not yet passed through the Company’s final quality control and inspection procedures. These defective cans were traced back to a seventh batch of cans purchased from the packaging supplier and, therefore, was not part of the defective batches of packaging material identified in May.

Unlike the defective cans identified in May (which had been isolated), it was established that a portion of the cans from this seventh defective batch had been released to the trade in the form of finished product. This release to the trade was after following the normal quality assurance processes which did not yield evidence of leaking cans.

Despite the Company having found no evidence of any leaking cans in the trade or with consumers, and with the agreement of the packaging supplier, it immediately initiated a rigorous transport and handling test. This entailed transporting both labelled and unlabeled product from our warehouses in Johannesburg to our facilities in the Western Cape.

The purpose of this test was to assess whether the leaks could manifest after the finished product had passed through Tiger Brands’ quality assurance processes and left Tiger Brands’ custody. Out of 287,040 cans inspected after the transport and handling test, a side seam leak had developed in two cans. These two defective cans formed part of the first six defective batches received from the packaging supplier.

A leak in a can presents a risk of secondary microbial contamination after the canned products are dispatched into the marketplace. Where such contamination occurs, it will present a low probability of illness and injury if the contaminated product is consumed.

Notwithstanding that only two side seam leaks had been detected because of the transport test, with consumer safety as an absolute priority, Tiger Brands considers it appropriate that it institutes an immediate recall of all products that could potentially be affected. This involves the withdrawal of specific canned vegetable products manufactured under the KOO and Hugo’s brands between 1 May 2019 and 5 May 2021 (both dates inclusive), amounting to approximately 20 million cans, which is ~9% of annual production. A full list of the potentially affected products can be found on the Company’s website at www.tigerbrands.com.

KOO canned fruit, which is produced using a different can from a different can manufacturing plant, is not impacted by this defect and does not form part of the recall. In addition, KOO canned pilchards are also not impacted as the cans are supplied by a different supplier.

Tiger Brands has engaged with the National Consumer Commission on this matter and will, with immediate effect, roll out an appropriate consumer and customer communication plan in respect of the recall. The recall is expected to be concluded in approximately 120 days.

The financial impact of the recall, including the cost of the potentially affected stock that may be written off, transport and storage costs, as well as the loss of margin on the returned stock, is estimated at between R500 million and R650 million. Tiger Brands has product recall insurance for the logistics of recalling the products. The Company’s claim under the contract with the third-party supplier is yet to be assessed.

Shareholders will be updated as appropriate.

The financial information contained in this announcement has not been reviewed or reported on by Tiger Brands’ auditors.

And, you thought Tiger Brands’ only had a Listeria problem.

Over 1,000 sickened with over 200 dead from Listeria tainted polony.  I have the honor to be working with counsel in South Africa – See Listeria Class Action.

Following the declaration of the Listeria outbreak in December 2017, a multi-sectoral outbreak response was initiated. Findings were shared by the Minister of Health, Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi at a public media briefing on 4 March 2018 (statement available at www.nicd.ac.za), and are summarized below. In addition, the National Department of Health requested a full recall of implicated processed meat products.  According to Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi:

In our constant search for the source of the outbreak and the treatment of people who are affected, a team from the NICD has interviewed 109 ill people to obtain details about foods they had eaten in the month before falling ill. Ninety-three (85%) people reported eating ready-to-eat (RTE) processed meat products, of which polony was the most common followed by viennas/sausages and then other ‘cold meats’.

On Friday 12th January, nine children under the age of 5 years presented to Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital with febrile gastro-enteritis. The paediatrician suspected foodborne disease, including listeriosis, as a possible cause. The environmental health practitioners (EHPs) were informed and on the same day visited the crèche, and obtained samples from two unrelated polony brands (manufactured by Enterprise and Rainbow Chicken Limited (RCL) respectively) and submitted these to the laboratory for testing.

Listeria monocytogenes was isolated from stool collected from one of the ill children, and from both of the polony specimens collected from the crèche. These isolates were sent to the NICD Centre for Enteric Diseases, and underwent whole genome sequencing and genomic analysis. The ST6 sequence type was confirmed on all three isolates on Saturday 27th January. Remember that in the last press conference I informed you that from clinical isolates obtained from patients (patient blood), 9 sequence types of Listeria monocytogenes were isolated and 91% were of sequence type 6 (ST6). We had then concluded that time that this outbreak is driven by ST6.

Following the lead from the tests performed on these children from Soweto and the food they had ingested, the EHPs (Environmental Health Practitioners), together with the NICD and DAFF representatives, accompanied by 3 technical advisors from the World Health Organisation in Geneva, visited a food- production site in Polokwane and conducted an extensive food product and environmental sampling.

Listeria monocytogenes was isolated from over 30% of the environmental samples collected from this site, which happens to be the Enterprise factory in Polokwane.

To conclude the investigation, whole genome sequencing analysis was performed from this Enterprise factory and the results became available midnight or last night. The outbreak strain, ST6, was confirmed in at least 16 environmental samples collected from this Enterprise facility.

The conclusion from this is that the source of the present outbreak can be confirmed to be the enterprise food-production facility in polokwane

According to the Centre for Enteric Diseases (CED) and Division of Public Health Surveillance and Response, Outbreak Response Unit (ORU), National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD)/ National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) the current number of ill and deceased are as follows:

As of 26 July 2018, 1060 laboratory-confirmed listeriosis cases have been reported to NICD from all provinces since Jan. 1, 2017.

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