South Africa said on Monday producers of cold meat products were to blame for delays in tracing the cause of the world’s worst listeria outbreak, which has killed 180 people in the past year.
As shoppers queued up to return processed meat items and demand refunds, shares in the biggest food firm in Africa’s most industrialized economy, Tiger Brands, tumbled because of its link to the outbreak that has spread since January 2017.
The government, which has been criticized for taking too long to find the cause, had on Sunday linked the outbreak to a meat product known as “polony” made by Tiger’s Enterprise Food.
It also said it was investigating a plant owned by RCL Foods that makes a similar product, whose shares also slid on Monday before recovering.
Both companies, which say they are cooperating with the authorities, suspended processed meat production at their plants after health authorities ordered a recall of cold meats associated with the outbreak from outlets at home and abroad.
The U.N. World Health Organization called the outbreak the largest ever recorded globally, after 948 cases were reported since January 2017. Listeria causes flu-like symptoms, nausea, diarrhoea and infection of the blood stream and brain.
South Africa’s Health Ministry said the source was found after pre-school children fell ill from eating polony products traced to processed meat producers.