Five years ago, three-year-old Jordin Du Preez was fed a polony sandwich at her preschool. The Tiger Brand’s polony in the sandwich was contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes and nearly killed Jordin and her classmates and left them with debilitating health consequences.
The Tiger Brands polony listeriosis outbreak began at the start of 2017 and was officially declared over in September 2018 with 1,065 confirmed cases and at least 218 deaths.
Food contaminated with Listeria may not look or smell spoiled. Symptoms of Listeria infection can include vomiting, nausea, persistent fever, muscle aches, severe headache, and neck stiffness. Young children are particularly susceptible to the infection.
Candess Du Preez picked up her 3-year-old daughter Jordin and her cousin Riley from their crèche (preschool) where they attended school daily. On Thursdays, the children were fed polony sandwiches for their afternoon snack.
But when the children returned home, something was off. Neither Jordin or Riley ate dinner.
“The next day, they woke up as normal,” Du Preez told Food Safety News. Candess and her mother walked Jordin and Riley to the crèche. They left early as the kids were being fed breakfast.
As they walked to school, Du Preez noticed her daughter was more tired than usual. “I thought she was just being tired, and I asked, ‘Okay, are you sure you’re okay?’”
“When we got to the crèche, we just thought it was one of those days they were tired. We left them and excused ourselves like normal.”
But the day turned out to be anything but normal. By early that afternoon all of the children in the crèche had to be rushed to a nearby clinic.
“When I got there, Jordin was already on oxygen. Jordin was the only one at that point on oxygen, the others were just vomiting and lame. They were tired, and lame, and vomiting,” Du Preez said. “She was blue.”
Jordin’s parents were terrified that their daughter might die.
For the next week, her parents, Joseph and Candess Du Preez, stayed as close as possible. “We slept in the parking lot by the hospital, because we didn’t want to leave her.”
During the week that the children were quarantined, investigators came to the homes of the parents to see if they had contracted the illness there. As Seventh-Day Adventists and vegans, the Du Preez do not eat meat. The Du Preez were confident the polony connected to the national outbreak wasn’t from their home.
The investigators also searched the crèche, and there they found a piece of the polony sandwich. The polony found was the Tiger Brand’s polony implicated in South Africa’s Listeria outbreak.
Jordin was uncomfortable and couldn’t sleep without her parents. She routinely removed IVs, making it difficult for doctors to administer treatment. The Du Preezs would see their child in the morning with swollen feet. She was in intense pain from headaches and vomiting, and doctors were concerned about Jordin’s kidneys and the damage they were suffering.
“It was a terrible thing to go through. It was life and death.”
Jordin, Riley and the other children began to improve and were able to return to their homes, though treatment for their Listeriosis continued for the next month.
Jordin and her cousin Riley are eight now, but they still deal with the complications of their infection, including constant pain and headaches. Jordin needed sinus surgery to treat her sleep apnea.
Du Preez says dealing with the health issues has been emotionally and financially brutal.
When asked if she holds any resentment toward Tiger Brands, Du Preez said, “I do. I do. I do.
“They are guilty, but it’s been so many years now and we are still suffering, the children are still suffering. They are found guilty, yet they deny and deny.
“It’s been five draining years. It’s been very draining.
“Just because we went to a government hospital does not mean we are not paying. We are paying. My husband almost lost his job. He is the only breadwinner in the house.
“How many other families have been affected?” she asked.
Along with the 1,000 people affected by the Tiger Brand’s listeriosis outbreak, Jordin is represented by Richard Spoor Attorneys and is still in a legal battle with the company over damages caused by the outbreak.
Tiger Brands has been fighting the lawsuit relating to its part in the deadly outbreak. The Seattle firm of Marler Clark LLP is serving as a consultant for the case attorneys. The attorneys are representing the victims on a contingency basis.
To read more about the impact of this outbreak, please see:
More background information about the 2017-2018 South Africa Listeria outbreak can be found here.
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