Food safety should be mandatory
The recent listeriosis outbreak in South Africa brought national attention to the state of food safety and testing in South Africa, and the need to further the range of food testing.
“There has been a huge outcry from the public in terms of why South Africa didn’t have sufficient regulations in place to prevent listeriosis. Although we test for certain pathogens like salmonella and E.Coli, testing for listeria was not part of that testing range,” explains Bureau Veritas Vice President Sal Govender.
Govender goes on to explain that South Africa has not migrated to a point where there are more enforceable regulations. “I think all the players along the food chain need to ensure that the requisite tests are done,” Govender emphasises.
Improving food safety in South Africa
All the stakeholders in food safety need to come together and ensure there are more enforceable regulations across the board, as well as improved food certification. “A lot of our testing is not mandatory and when it is not mandatory you are going to find that people are going to be lax,” Govender highlights.
“There needs to be certainty and regulations along the way so consumers know that when they are eating something, they are almost certain that they don’t have to worry about the quality of what they are eating,” Govender stresses, “and having more enforceable regulations and testing is one way that can be done”.
Further, South Africa should look at potentially moving in line with European Union (EU) regulations and looking at certification and testing standards that are in line with EU and US standards. “I think this will get the country to a point where we can compete globally with exports as we are complying to international standards,” she enthuses.
There have been multiple discussions and forums on food safety, where it has been promulgated that there is food testing that needs to be done and food standards that need to be adhered to. “I think that is where we still have a gap as a country,” Govender points out.
Retailers have one of the biggest roles in ensuring food safety claims Govender. “Retailers call the shots. They can dictate to suppliers as to whether they want to stock products on their shelves,” she points out. “And with that power comes influence.”
“The discussion needs to be ‘are all the guys in your supply chain to get this particular product manufactured, are they compliant with all those standards. Let me see the audits. So, if retailers use that power more effectively and more categorically you will see that paradigm shift in enforceable regulations and you will create that [food safety] culture within our country,” she points out.
In addition, retailers need to ensure that food transport and storage standards are upheld. “Never break the cold chain, don’t put goods that can be easily contaminated close to strong products such as washing powder and so on,” she explains. While these are simple and well-known standards, they can have a large impact of food safety Govender insists.
Bureau Veritas has a device called SafeOps which can be used by retailers in store. “It measures temperature, records expiry dates, looks at the cold chain or any other parameters that have been decided upon. With these parameters a retailer can see if and when food needs to be taken off the shelf, improving food safety in their store,” Govender explains.
Food safety affects food security. With the listeriosis outbreak, an affordable protein was “taken out of the market” says Govender. There where little to no alternatives to this affordable protein for lower income families, comprising their food security. “From the farmer to the retailer there should always be that paradigm of food safety, that comprised food safety comprises food security. And if you want to ensure we are not stuck in a situation where we do not have basic food stuffs available to lower income groups, then you have got to protect that ideology of food safety is tantamount to food security,” Govender concludes.