Lessons learnt from the Listeriosis Crisis

Listeriosis, a serious infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes, hit headlines throughout South Africa a year ago as a result of the contamination of cold meats.

The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) held a workshop in Johannesburg on 5 February 2019 at which South African Healthcare Risk Waste (HCRW) service providers shared their challenges and knowledge about the treatment and disposal of Listeria-contaminated food waste.

Compass Medical Waste Services’ operations director, Graham du Randt, reported back on behalf of Compass.

“Compass was in the perfect position to treat and dispose of the contaminated food products through our environmentally conscious, non-burn autoclave technology,’’ explains Graham. 

“Listeria bacteria is destroyed through the application of temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees Celsius. Bondtech autoclaves, of which Compass owns eight, reach 140 degrees Celsius during the treatment life-cycle. Thereafter the treated food waste is shredded and taken to a permitted landfill,’’ continues Graham.

“I believe the lack of education around the benefits of using autoclave technology for the treatment of the contaminated food, resulted in generators choosing the incineration option. Due to the shortage of incineration capacity in South Africa, the additional demand placed on incinerators had an effect on the available capacity to treat the waste. Incineration is the only approved treatment method for anatomical and pharmaceutical waste (schedules 5-6) in South Africa.’’

“This lack of education was compounded by the fact that generators were unclear on how to segregate, containerise or repackage the items. The loose or exposed items needed to be re-packaged and all contaminated items needed to be containerised to meet the requirements of transportation of dangerous goods.’’

“Poor containerised waste made it difficult to handle, along with the fact that the majority of the waste was frozen resulting in high moisture content. This meant it took longer for the treatment unit (incinerator / autoclave) to reach optimum temperature.”

Prior to accepting the infectious Listeria food waste, all licenced hazardous waste management companies had to submit a risk assessment to the DEA. Only once the approval of this document was received, could these licenced hazardous waste management companies accept Listeria food waste for treatment and disposal.

“At the DEA workshop ways to speed up the approval process was discussed, as the goal in a situation like this is to dispose of the contaminated products as quickly and safely as possible with the protection of the community and the environment being the priority,’’ concludes Graham.

To find out more about our compliance measures, please visit www.compasswasteservices.co.za/services or email customercom@compass.za.net