Death toll from listeria outbreak in South Africa rises to more than 200

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - The death toll from the world's largest ever outbreak of the food-borne disease listeria has risen to 204, but the number of new cases has declined sharply after products were recalled, South African authorities said on Thursday.

The health department recalled processed meat products known as "polony", after the source of the outbreak was traced to a factory owned by Tiger Brands unit Enterprise Foods in March resulting in a class action lawsuit filed against the company.

"Since identification of the source of the outbreak and recall of implicated products, the number of cases of listeria has declined drastically," the Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture said in a joint statement.

The number of cases reported has risen to 1,033, the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) said.

But the number reported per week had decreased to an average of 6.4 since March 5, after the products were recalled, compared with 24.9 previously, it said.

The government said it would review its food safety legislation and would hold a consultative meeting regarding compulsory specifications for processed meat.

"Risk profiling of food processing premises is under way and preparations have been made for a program of inspections and laboratory testing of high risk processing facilities of food that may be at risk for Listeria contamination," the departments of health and agriculture said.

Listeria is a bacterium found in soil, water and vegetation. People can be infected through animal products and fresh fruit and vegetables.

(Reporting by Tanisha Heiberg; editing by Andrew Roche)

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