Interview with Radio 786

By: Bridget Day on 27 March 2017

Interview with Radio 786

For those of you who missed it, please find the transcript of our interview on Radio 786 on health & safety standards and legislation in the food industry, and consumer risk from pathogens such as #listeria and #salmonella in food facilities.

Radio 786: Briefly, what safety standards are in place to ensure that any food products which reach the shelf are suitable for human consumption?


FF: Firstly, there is legislation to protect the consumer. All food manufacturers and sellers are subject to its provisions. The Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act, Act 54 of 1974 states that any person shall be guilty of an offence i he sells, or manufactures or imports for sale, any foodstuff or cosmetic which is contaminated, impure or decayed, or is, or is in terms of any regulation deemed to be, harmful or injurious to human health.


There is also a regulation specifically for dairy products R 1555 of 1997, last amended in 2001 which states that no person shall sell any dairy product or composite product which contains antibiotics or other antimicrobial substances in amounts that exceed the maximum residue levels stipulated by law; or pathogenic organisms, extraneous matter or any inflammatory product or other substance which for any reason whatsoever may render any such product unfit for human consumption.


The Act and the regulations should be enforced by the local department of health such as the City of Cape Town.


The environmental health practioners – we used to call them health inspectors can inspects facilities and test samples of product off the shelves of supermarkets. The department of Agriculture is responsible for some regulations that define the quality aspects of dairy products such as fat content etc.


Secondly if the product is packed for a retailer there will be a trade agreement and a product specification which will all so address legal requirements and other specific requirements that are important to that retailer. There also may be testing of the product by the retailers using a third party laboratory.


The food manufacturer is required to implement a food safety management system and this internal control system is audited also by a third party. These auditors are trained and experienced in the food industry obviously.


Finally companies may even implement internationally recognized systems such as ISO 22000 that is a further level of corporate governance.



Radio 786: In the Parmalat case, the factory was aware of the presence of Salmonella and Listeria but its quality manager was told to falsify reports to clients... what external or State oversight measures are there to ensure that companies are not able to act in this way?


FF: As I mentioned any company supplying the retail industry should be audited by either the retailer themselves or a third party. The larger retailers all use this system. The audit is a snapshot in time that has its limitations. It is also an announced in most cases which mean the company know when the auditors are coming for the audit.


The best systems in the world all rely on people and that is why a company needs the right culture for food safety starting at the top and practiced every day by everyone.


At the end of the day Mervin King said “You cannot legislate good behaviour.”



Radio 786: What penalties may be applied?


FF: There are provisions for penalties under the Foodstuffs Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act for food manufacturers who are found guilty– these can include a fine and/or imprisonment. Also the Consumer Protection Act makes provision for penalties if food products cause harm to the consumer.


Radio 786: There have however been cases where harmful products do reach consumers - in some cases even affecting foods for infants - are we slipping in our standards?


FF: I think the standard of self regulation has improved significantly over the last 10 years as I know the amount of work and effort that the retailers and the suppliers to retail have put in to the systems that are in place. I do think however that we cannot let our guard done for a single second neither should the industry underestimate the trust the consumer places in them.


I am also concerned at the cases affecting young children but I think these cases have arisen from school feeding schemes and not the retail channel.



Radio 786: As consumers, is there any sure way to be certain about the quality and safety of the products one is purchasing - in this instance it is a trusted name which allowed such products to still be dispatched?


FF: As consumers, we would all prefer that eating our next meal not be as risky as playing Russian roulette. The reaction from consumers to incidents like this is exactly what we need to ensure that the food chain do the right thing just because it’s the right thing to do.



Radio 786: How dangerous is Salmonella, Listeria and other bacteria which develop in food?


FF:  Both of these bacteria are pathogens – in other words disease causing and they are both associated with food. It is important to note that we may find them in the plant in drains etc but it does not immediately mean all the product is contaminated. There is obviously increased risk and proper cleaning protocols would need to be implemented to remove the infection.


Salmonella infection, or salmonellosis, is a bacterial disease of the intestinal tract. Salmonella is a group of bacteria that causes typhoid fever, food poisoning, gastroenteritis, enteric fever and other illnesses. People become infected mostly through contaminated water or foods, especially meat, poultry and eggs. It is important to note that not all species are equally dangerous. Just like your cat that is a pet is in the same family as the lion. There have been reported cases of food borne illness associated with dairy products in other parts of the world. Salmonella Typhi causes typhoid fever which is a reportable disease in South Africa.


Listeriosis is a serious infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. Again, there are other Listeria species that are not as harmful. This bacterium species has been associated with outbreaks involving dairy products. The CDC in the US advises pregnant woman to take particular care as they are most vulnerable during their pregnancy and to avoid eating soft cheeses, especially those made using raw milk.



Radio 786: What recourse is there for consumers - especially with everyday products that are not packaged or handled properly before they get to the shelf?


FF: If it’s in the store, go straight to the store manager and raise your concern immediately.


If you have bought the product then the first port of call is back to the retailer where you purchased the product. The law requires telephone numbers to be displayed on the products for this reason. You must phone. Many consumers don’t give feedback so the industry thinks they are doing great.


You can also report any suspected illness to the local authority.

Many thanks to Hassen Seria, Producer for Radio 786