Your lunch outing shouldn't be a game of Russian roulette

By Linda Jackson on 07 April 2017

Someone asked me a question today about what we as consumers can do about protecting ourselves from everyday products that are not packaged or handled properly before they get to the shelf? A though provoking question indeed given the recent press on alleged food safety breaches.

As consumers, we do need to be aware of what protection there is in place and what rights we do have in this regard.

So, what the lowest common denominator?

In the industry, we call it the Certificate of Acceptability. This piece of paper means that the food business is firstly known and authorized to handle food by the local department of environmental health sometimes called food control, and secondly, the facility has been inspected to conforms to the minimum hygiene requirements necessary in terms of the regulation for food premises R962.


The important thing for you and I, is that the certificate of acceptability must be displayed in a conspicuous place for the information of the public on the food premises in respect of which it was issued  - or a copy of it must immediately be made available on request where the display of it is impractical.


This certificate must be updated if the person in charge of food premises is replaced by another person, as the certificate is issued in the name of the person who has responsibility for ensuring the provisions of the regulation are enforced.


The certificate also states what kind of food handling is permitted at the premises so someone who is selling packaged products should not be repacking any food unless the certificate indicates this.


This certificate is required for all food handling facilities from restaurant to retailer to wholesaler to manufacturer. Unfortunately there is no scoring/grading scheme associated with the certificate to advise you and I as consumers on how seriously this establishment takes our health – maybe with time?


So, what does the regulation say about your health?

The regulation addresses the basic hygiene requirements necessary to minimize any public health risks.


1. What should a food handling facility look like?

The location, design and construction of the food handling facility are all defined by law to ensure the place is hygienic and will not cause a potential risk to the food handled there.


2. What should the hygiene facilities look like?

This part of the regulation addresses the toilet facilities and hand wash basins for staff and patrons alike.

Imagine standing in a dirty loo after having enjoyed that lobster. The law requires specific numbers of toilets and hand wash basins depending on the size of the facility, because there is little as bad as standing in a queue!


3. What other facilities are needed?

The food handling facility has to show it has all the necessary equipment for handling food safely and hygienically. There are additional requirements included here in terms of the National Building Regulations and these also cover safety measures like the fire exits. The person in charge needs to ensure there is a proper waste removal programme, pest control systems and make sure all staffed are trained.


4. Maintaining the hot or cold chain

The regulation gives food handling facilities specific temperatures for storage and transport of foods.

All perishable foods should be stored below 7 degrees and even lower (at 4 degrees) for meat, chicken, fish, poultry and dairy.

You should take note of this even in your own home.


5. Hygienic behaviours

The person is charge must ensure the people that handle food are healthy and do not pose a risk to the food the handle. Some diseases can be passed from the human to the food and then on to the consumer. The law gives specific requirements for how to handle foods, which requires training.

The law also addresses the food handler on what they may or may not do. The focus here is on washing their hands and acting in a way so as not to compromise your salad or burger. Always interesting to watch and see if people do behave in the right way.

(My pet hate – observing kitchen staff in the toilets wearing the kitchen clothes and not wearing a hairnet when handling food – UGH.)

So the next time you sit down at your favourite pub, restaurant, fast food outlet or even retailer, look for the certificate of acceptability, ask for it by name and report any issues to the person in charge. If necessary report it directly to the municipal office.

It’s your right.