South Africa’s red meat industry is also at risk of increased decline unless an effective food inspection agency is established, says Gareth Lloyd-Jones, MD of Ecowize.
“Failing to improve bio security practices would result in the country losing its export status, and inability to compete in the local market with increasing meat imports.”
The Department of Trade and Industry should set up a dedicated food control agency. Failure to enforce bio-security regulations in accordance with international meat safety practice, has resulted in South Africa’s meat quality being regarded as ‘third world grade’.
The Meat Safety Act obligates the state to set up an independent meat inspection service for abattoirs, however this has not been done since 2000.
DTI NRCS checks fish and cans shipments
SHEQafrics.com asked the DTI National Regulator of Compulsory Specifications (NRCS) about its roles in food and beverage hygiene. The agency checks shipments of fish and canned meat at SA harbours, by smell, visual inspection, and laboratory tests, said NRCS orricial Mirriam Moswaane. They do not inspect retailers, delis or restaurants.
NRCS division Perishable Products, Food and Associated Industries (PPFAI) has been appointed to administer compulsory specifications for handling, preparation, processing, canning, packaging, freezing, storage and quality of various fish, marine, and canned meat products for human consumption.
NRCS PPFAI division work and relevant specifications cover the relevant food processes from raw materials to factory, handlers, and product. Consumer complaints or concerns on safety or quality of these food products or processes are “followed up for corrective action and improvement if necessary”.
The scope of the compulsory specification for Frozen Fish and Frozen Marine Molluscs, for example, excludes fish shops, hotels, boarding houses, restaurants and eating houses. “NRCS food inspectors do from time to time visit retail outlets to verify products and would follow up on illegal products.
Restaurants under Food Act, Health Act, municipalities
“Food retail outlets have to comply with Regulations in terms of the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act, 54 of 1972, and other requirements as legislated by local authorities in terms of the Health Act”, said Moswaane.
“The NRCS Act, 5 of 2008, provides for a wide range of sanctions that are applied, for instance in serving of various types of Directives by the NRCS board and oten results in destruction of various types of products where necessary.”
Need for self regulation
A number of competitive abattoirs strive to comply with the Act and international standards, but a number of illegal abattoirs are operating without inspection, said Lloyd-Jones.
The Red Meat Industry Forum (RMIF) of South Africa reports many vacancies of state vets, who are responsible for preserving provincial bio-security standards. About 37% veterinary positions in the country are not filled.
The RMIF has “tried unsuccessfully to raise their concerns with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), about its failure to manage food safety and failure to reinstate a foot and mouth disease free zone status in line with the World Animal Health Organisation (OEI).
The Animal Diseases Act, Animal Improvement Act and Meat Safety Act are not being policed effectively by the DAFF, specifically regarding registration of abattoirs and independent meat inspections.
Agric and food industry should act
Lloyd-Jones calls on the agriculture, food and hospitality industry to establish an independent, self-regulated, multi-sector meat inspection service, to inspect compliance with legislation and international food safety standards like ISO 22000 standards, to prevent the collapse of the red meat industry and to help emerging farmers deal with bio security issues.
”Implementation of an integrated quality monitoring system that allows a meat inspector to trace, qualify and document local distribution and imports according to food safety standards and processes should support this initiative.”
“We have to illustrate proficient due diligence systems on bio security at our farms, borders and processing plants.”
Restaurants not inspected
Gareth Lloyd-Jones, MD of Ecowize, says there are pockets of excellence in South African food retail, but “the general standard of food hygiene and safety are a becoming a major concern at the ‘fork’ end of the supply chain, in restaurants and delis”.
Retail food and hospitality suppliers like restaurants are governed by several bodies of legislation, and each sector conforms to a different set of food safety laws and standards. These standards should converge, says Lloyd-Jones.
Restaurants and fast food hygiene is ruled by the SA Department of Health. However, methods of monitoring vendors needs to be much more stringent and in line with strict standards governing food producers.
Since legislation is not driving them, the focus of many restaurant owners is not on safety and hygiene, nor on occupational health and hygiene.
“That they do not comply with basic food hygiene and safety standards because there is no legislation forcing them to do so,” he says.
Handling of food and beverage products at the consumer end poses a much higher risk of bacterial and other contamination than when food producers handle it. “If the product is contaminated with e-coli virus at a deli or restaurant, there are no stringent controls in place to pick it up.
“Some strains of e-coli can be very dangerous to humans with even a small dose and can spread very quickly, leading to a potential outbreak” says Lloyd-Jones. He calls for safety investment among franchises and tenants.
PHOTO; Gareth Lloyd-Jones, MD of Ecowize, wants tighter restaurant legislation and enforcement.