Prominent Food Safety Lawyer Questions Inaction By South Africa Over Listeriosis


Bill Marler, a prominent advocate for food safety and a leading plaintiff’s attorney, questions the inaction by the South African Department of Justice over the 2017-2018 outbreak of listeriosis.  A polony (sausage) product, widely consumed by lower income demographics, was responsible for over 1,000 laboratory-confirmed cases of listeriosis from January 2017 through July 2018.  The outbreak involved 216 documented deaths with many survivors enduring permanent disability.  The outbreak was extensively investigated by both local epidemiologists and international experts and was ascribed to an ST6 strain of Listeria monocytogenes isolated from patients and product and the environment of an implicated plant operated by Tiger Brands in Polokwane. 

Despite a class action civil lawsuit, there has been no compensation for victims.  South African authorities have yet to bring criminal charges against those considered responsible for the outbreak. This action is urged by Marler who addressed a video conference demanding government response. He cited criminal action brought against companies and individuals involved in significant foodborne disease outbreaks.  These include:-

Bill Marler
  • The Odwalla apple juice outbreak of STEC in 1998, resulting in a fine of $1.5 million.
  • The owners of Jensen Farms were each fined $1.5 million in 2012 as a result of unknowingly distributing cantaloupe infected with Listeria.
  • Jack and Peter Decoster responsible for an extensive 2010 SE outbreak, each served three months in jail and their company, Quality Egg, paid a $6.8 million fine.  The outbreak, extending from May to November 2010, resulted in close to 2,000 confirmed infections and based on statistical projections up to 62,000 consumers may have been affected.
  • The 2014 case against the Parnell Brothers operating the Peanut Corporation of America resulted in two-decade prison terms as a result of the 2008 Salmonella outbreak with 714 diagnosed cases and nine fatalities.
  • Conagra Foods paid an $11 million fine in 2015 following distribution of contaminated peanut butter in 2006 related to the Peanut Corporation of America case.
  • Blue Bell Creameries paid a $17 million fine following distribution of ice cream containing Listeria.  Criminal charges are pending against the then CEO, Paul Kruse.
  • Chipotle Mexican Grill paid a $25 million fine following a series of foodborne outbreaks involving Salmonella, norovirus, and E.coli infections.

It is obvious that the FDA, FSIS, and the DOJ in the U.S. consider foodborne disease as a serious threat to public wellbeing.  In the U.S. any evidence of suppression of microbiological data, criminal negligence, fraud, knowingly distributing adulterated products constituting depraved indifference will result in severe penalties including the possibility of incarceration for managers and executives. Marler together with his colleagues in South Africa is seeking justice for the Listeria victims and their families.