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Pick n Pay removes Nussbaum’s meat in listeria scare

  • Kosher meat generic
Traces of listeria have been found in lamb and beef at Nussbaum’s Kosher Butchery, according to Chief Executive Baruch Lurie on Wednesday. “Late yesterday afternoon, we received notification that our most recent microbiological results had been found to contain traces of listeria. To our knowledge, no one has been affected as a result,” Lurie told the SA Jewish Report on Wednesday.
by TALI FEINBERG | Aug 02, 2018

He was responding to questions after the raw kosher meat fridges at three Pick n Pay stores in Johannesburg were suddenly emptied with no explanation.

“We are still waiting for results on deli processed food (cold meats/sausages/polonies) and will inform the public as soon as we get them,” he wrote. “There appears to be no risk to chicken, as these are sourced from a totally separate supplier. We have proactively removed all deli products pertaining to the batch in question from supermarkets as a precautionary measure.

“Nussbaum’s Kosher Butchery was selected to supply Pick n Pay owing to our high health and safety standards. We are audited yearly by Intertek, and endeavour to comply with all national food safety requirements. Our cleaning and hygiene is outsourced to an international company – the best in the market place. To date, our equipment and environment has been cleared.

“Nussbaum’s has served the community since 1936, and to date has never had any major health concerns regarding any of our products. With this in mind, we understand that issues like listeria raise legitimate concerns. There is no reason to be alarmed. We will provide comprehensive and ongoing information to you as soon as test results have been received by us.

“We would like to assure you that we take this matter extremely seriously, and are implementing additional measures above the stringent processes we have in place already.”

It is unclear how the listeria arose at Nussbaum’s, as the abattoir where the meat comes from, Chamdor Meat Packers, confirmed that all of its tests had produced clear results, and that it had systems at every level to ensure that it delivered a safe product to the public.

Maxi Kosher Butchery confirmed that it was also externally audited, and all the results had come back clear. Moishe’s Butchery said it only did internal audits, but it had all the necessary protocols and cleaning measures in place.

But after the meat shelves emptied and panic rose, there was a dearth of clear information from both the Beth Din and Pick n Pay. This demonstrated a vacuum in communication that the community has been needing since the Stan & Pete saga.

As consumers watched and waited for someone in authority to explain the mystery of the missing meat, they expressed their anger on social media and to the SA Jewish Report. “People have had enough of things always being swept under the carpet. Why are Pick n Pay and whoever else is involved so silent? Why can’t they just tell us what’s going on? Pick n Pay Norwood told me it’s not listeriosis. It better not be, because if any of us get sick, then what? G-d forbid! The Beth Din has said it’s got nothing to do with it,” said a fed-up kosher consumer, who spoke to the SA Jewish Report on condition of anonymity.

“Norwood told me the meat is fine, but if I don’t feel comfortable that I can return the meat and get refunded. Seems like we will never know what’s really going on as usual,” the consumer continued. “Trust and respect is being lost, big time!”

On Facebook, the rumours were rife that listeriosis was, indeed, the reason for the meat being removed, especially after users shared a photo from Norwood Pick n Pay Hypermarket of a sign saying, ‘Dear customer, sorry for the inconvenience, our current meat supplier is erratic. Management.’

In response to a query from a consumer, the Beth Din’s Kosher Desk responded: “With reference to enquiries raised about food health and safety at certain butcheries, it is important to note that the Beth Din Kashrut Department is not a qualified health and safety regulator, and does not have the requisite scientific expertise nor the legal authority to make a determination in this situation. For more information, please speak to the relevant butcheries.”

To this, one person wrote on Facebook: “As the arbiter of what is or isn’t kosher, surely the Beth Din Kashrut Department has at the very least a moral duty to advise consumers of a significant health issue if it exists, and it is aware of it?” Others disagreed, saying, “It's not the Beth Din’s issue at all. Certifying something as kosher is where their responsibility starts and ends. Don’t think it’s fair to expect them to carry this load too.”

In response to questions, Rabbi Dovi Goldstein of the Beth Din Kosher Department confirmed that the Beth Din had no role or authority in ensuring food safety at kashering facilities. Furthermore, it could not be responsible for informing the community on food safety, as it was simply not its area of expertise.

“The Beth Din Kosher Department is not a qualified health and safety regulator and does not have the legal authority to make a determination on the food-safety issues raised by Pick n Pay,” he said.

Dr Juno Thomas, the head of the Centre for Enteric Diseases at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, explained that raw meat was not usually tested for listeria because it would be cooked above 70 degrees, doing away with the risk. Thus, by default, the listeria found in Nussbaum’s beef and lamb was not a serious health concern. However cooking meat rare still posed a slight risk. Chicken is usually fully cooked, so it is not tested for listeria, and even if it is found in chicken, it is not seen as a crisis.

She explained that since the national listeriosis outbreak, many retail stores were introducing independent external audits of their suppliers to check hygiene and food-safety practice. If there was a lapse in hygiene or food safety, a retailer might recall products as a precautionary measure to “cover themselves”, but this did not mean they had necessarily tested the meat or found an organism. This may have been what happened this week.

Indeed, Pick n Pay spokesman Janine Caradonna said, “We conduct internal audits with suppliers at their premises which must comply with our own specifications. Our food technologists visit suppliers that pack under the Pick n Pay brand to verify their systems, monitor results, and check quality compliance to specification. The results of our latest audit were not compliant with all our specifications, resulting in our immediate decision not to stock these products until such time as we are satisfied with compliance.

“Meat will now be kashered under the supervision of the Johannesburg Beth Din at the Norwood store, and those that will receive this new supply are Norwood, Fairmount, and Gallo Manor. Norwood is the first store that will have full stocks of kosher meat, which is sourced from an audited abattoir that is monitored by SAMIC [the South African Meat Industry Company] and our technologist. We always seek to provide our customers with the highest quality products, and all must conform to our standards with no exceptions.”

  • Nussbaum’s has asked that if anyone wants to return and be refunded for meat they bought between 16 to 22 July, they can email baruch@nussbaums.co.za to arrange it.

1 Comment

  1. 1 yoni isaacson 02 Aug
    it is true that the beth din are not health experts.  but they are also not biology experts.  dangerous foos is by definition forbidden to eat and thus not kosher, and is in fact treated even more seriously than treif in hakacha.  it therefore is fair to expect that just like experts are brought in to identify all sorts of moniscule bugs in insects that might or moght not be a kashrus issue, some form on control over hygiene should also be enforced and expected for a kosher license.  it is a sad sign of the times and trends in world kashrus organizations that priorities have become so warped- the beth din is far from alone in this issue.

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