white slime

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Listeriosis: What is “white slime” and did it cause the outbreak?

The words “white slime” have wormed their way into the South African consciousness. But what is this gross sounding stuff and what role has it possibly played in the Listeriosis outbreak that has claimed almost 200 lives in the country?

white slime

Photo: Pixabay

South Africa’s Listeriosis outbreak has caused all sorts of panic. Over the weekend,  Minister of Health, Aaron Motsoaledi, announced that the outbreak has been traced to an Enterprise factory in Polokwane.

The factory immediately issued a statement and said that it will comply with all the recall instructions. By Monday, supermarkets released a list of products that will be recalled.

So far, the outbreak has claimed almost 200 lives, and if you’re worried that you might have contracted Listeriosis, check out a list of signs and symptoms here. It’s also worth familiarising yourself with how to keep your kitchen Listeriosis free.

This is not a drama that’s going to go away anytime soon, though. Some serious questions will be asked about how this spread, how it went on for so long and, crucially, who is at fault.

According to the Daily Maverick, Tiger Brands (who owns Enterprise) CEO Lawrence MacDougall told journalists at a press briefing this week that there is “no direct link between any of the deaths and the company’s products”.

Enterprise said over the weekend that it would comply with the recalls, but will continue conducting its own tests. And so the game goes.

But, while all of this is going on, two disturbing words have crept into the lexicon of South Africans worried about the “ready to eat” cold meat products: white slime.

Yep, that is as gross as it sounds. Look, if you eat any sort of processed meats you probably know gross it is, but calling something white slime just adds another level of yuck to it all.

The issues around “white slime” was first reported by Business Insider South Africa on Monday.

What is white slime?

In short: it’s deboned chicken made into a paste.

Bascially, once all your “nice” cuts of chicken have been deboned, the leftovers are forced through machines to make this “slime” which consists of bits of meat, bone marrow and even, in some cases, actual bone.

In South Africa processed meat has to contain 75% of a “meat equivalent” – yeah, gross.

Where does South Africa get its “white slime from”?

According to reports, South Africa imports millions of kilos of this stuff from Brazil. It’s cheap as chips, costing just over R4 per kg, according to the SA Poultry Association.

Louw Hoffman, a professor in meat science at the University of Stellenbosch, told  Business Insider South Africa that processed meat products possibly contain this substance as it helps keep the cost of processed meat products low.

So, white slime basically gets added things like viennas, polony and yes, even what passes as “ham”.

What does “white slime” have to do with South Africa’s Listeriosis outbreak?

Academic studies suggest that listeriosis is an under-diagnosed disease in Brazil. It is not a compulsorily notifiable disease there. It is therefore being theorised that some of the imported “white slime” might have contained strains of the virus.

However, we must be clear here: there is currently no evidence that this is the case or the cause of the strain of the virus in South Africa. It remains just a theory. However, if you weren’t dubious about processed meat before, you probably are now.