SOUTH AFRICA – The South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) has urged consumers to be more watchful when making food purchases by carefully reading packages and labelling due to load shedding, water limitations, and the warm weather.

This also entails making sure that fundamental food hygiene procedures are followed when acquiring and preparing food.

To make sure South Africans’ food sources and manufacturing methods fulfill the essential standards for food safety, the SABS notes that it continuously reviews and modifies national standards.

“Food and food products spoil faster in warmer and humid conditions, and it is important that everyone be more vigilant regarding food safety,” advises Sadhvir Bissoon, Acting CEO of SABS.

Food and food product retailers must make sure that the cold chain is set up and maintained from suppliers to stores until it is sold.

“Consumers can continue the cold chain by transporting food in cooler boxes or having it delivered direct to their homes.

“With rising temperatures and load shedding, consumers need to be aware of the impact of these elements on the storage of food and the potential of exposure to contamination,” Bissoon said.

Currently, the Food Safety System Certification 22000 is the benchmark for food safety worldwide (FSSC 22000).

FSSC Certification is a complete food, feed and packaging safety certification scheme for the auditing and management of Food Safety Systems (FSMS). The scheme is offered and managed by the Foundation FSSC, recognized by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI).

Bissoon explained that it is important that the entire supply chain observes and is certified to comply with the requirements of SANS/ISO 22000, noting that SABS offers certification for companies and testing and verification services to food producers.

“In addition, the SABS can certify the refrigeration/cooling units of vehicles that transport food and food products. Our suite of laboratories can identify the nutritional percentage of ingredients, pesticides and chemicals, bacteria, microbes, fungi and any other substance that may be of benefit or harm to consumers,” he explained.

Tips to cope with limitations

To deal with these limitations, SABS has advised stores that do not have generators or alternative sources of power to ensure that the refrigeration units are functional, rather purchase food that was delivered on the day or ask the store manager for confirmation of ‘fresh’ produce.

It has also encouraged consumers to examine packaging, to ensure that expiry dates are visible, packaging is not damaged and that purchases are made from reputable retailers.

“Do not purchase products that do not contain information about ingredients, nutritional information, storage advice, expiry dates, production dates or manufacturing information. If products should be refrigerated, ensure that the cooling/freezing of the products was not compromised before you purchase them,” said SABS.

In addition, they should look for verification, inspection or certification marks on products, as products that are subjected to testing and certification offer better peace of mind that the production processes and product complies to SANS/ISO 22000

When storing and preparing food at home SABS advises consumers to keep food separately to avoid cross contamination, especially with fresh and perishable items such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy and fresh produce.

Moreover, consumers need to engage their senses when handling food at home. For example, if something looks and smells bad – rather throw it out or return it to the store for a refund if it has not been used.

SABS is a national standards body and does not have the regulatory authority to declare SANS 22000 or any other standard as a mandatory requirement.

“Our product certification scheme, however, addresses a recourse process when material non-compliances to the Standard are identified. SABS works with regulators and other industry bodies to set the requirements or standards for products and processes,” Bissoon said.

According to Bissoon, authorities like the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications (NRCS), the National Department of Health (NDOH), and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment have the power to regulate particular food types and food products, carry out inspections, and recall products when there is a potential health concern.

SABS has urged regulators to take an active role in its technical committees, which create and disseminate national standards aimed at enhancing the quality of life of citizens.

The regulator is also equipped to provide testing and certification services for the safety of food.

The SABS Training Academy continues to be a certified training partner with Foundation FSSC and provides training in FSSC 22000.

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