Guide to Food Compliance in South Africa

Jun 7, 2024

Introduction

Food safety is vital. It is a matter of the health and safety of consumers. Protecting fellow humans from hazards in their food is at the centre of food compliance regulations across the globe. Anyone who is looking to open a food business needs to follow these regulations.

Guidelines for food safety and compliance in South Africa apply to the entire food chain: from farm to fork. Even pre-harvest, farmers are required to follow certain guidelines for handling fresh produce. Butchers and abattoirs need to comply with rules about handling and processing meat. Food processors need to follow regulations about packaging, labelling and storage. These are just a few of the aspects of food compliance before the products reach supermarket shelves or restaurant kitchens.

This guide takes a look at food compliance in the South African food industry as a collective. So, if you have a coffee shop, intend to open a food truck or shisanyama business, or run a catering service, these rules will apply to you.

Importance Of Food Safety And Compliance

Contaminated food can cause severe health consequences. Food poisoning, food allergies and hazardous bacteria that grow on spoilt food. These are just some of the major complications that can arise from unsafe or contaminated food products.

More than this, consumers need to feel they can trust the safety of their food. Ensuring your customers can trust you to prepare their food in a sanitary environment is sure to result in returning clients.

By implementing good food safety practices, the risk of contaminated food, product recalls and food spoiling is significantly reduced. Your business’s reputation is also enhanced when it commits itself to vigilant food safety practices.

You cannot operate a food business in South Africa without following the law. Every food-related business needs to comply with food safety, otherwise your business is illegal.

Food Compliance Regulators In South Africa

There are many role players that enforce food compliance regulations in South Africa. One of these is the Department of Health through the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications (NRCS) and the National Regulator for Compulsory Standards (NRCS). According to the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectant Act 54 ,1972 (FCD Act), all foodstuffs must be safe for human consumption. This includes the manufacturing process, labelling, sale and importation of such ingredients. Furthermore, the department addresses hygiene requirements through the National Health Act, 2003. The International Health Regulations Act, 1974 is specifically aimed at the safety of imported foodstuffs when it arrives at ports and airports.

Regarding the Regulations Governing General Food Hygiene (R.638 of 2009), hygiene requirements about food premises, equipment, handling of food and practices are outlined.

The South African National Standards (SANS) sets out further standards regarding these safety requirements, including information about food labels, additives and the categorising of food.

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) is responsible for food safety through the following legislation:

  • Agricultural Product Standards Act, 1990 (Act No. 119 of 1990)
  • Animal Diseases Act, 1984 (Act No. 35 of 1984)
  • Animal Identification Act, 2000 (Act No. 6 of 2002)
  • Animal Improvement Act, 1998 (Act. No. 62 of 1998)
  • Animals Protection Act, 1962 (Act No. 71 of 1962)
  • Fertilisers, Farm Feeds, Agricultural Remedies and Stock Remedies Act, 1947 (Act no. 36 of 1984)
  • Meat Safety Act, 2000 (Act No.40 of 2000)
  • Performing Animals Protection Act, 1935 (Act No. 24 of 1935)
  • Veterinary and Para-Veterinary Professions Act, 1982 (Act No. 19 of 1982)
  • the Liquor Products Act, 1989 (Act 60 of 1989)

The Department of Trade and Industry is responsible for the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS). It controls canned and frozen meat and fishery products through the Standards Act, 1993.

Food Legislation Advisory Group (FLAG) was established to assist the government in creating South Africa’s food regulations. The group consists of scientist, academics, consumers and industry representatives to advise on important areas such as microbiology, mycotoxins, irradiation, additives and any other areas where expert knowledge is required.

Regulators also have a global food standard they use which were created by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). It is called the Codex Alimentarius. It is a list compiled by the World Health Organisation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). This list of standards provides guidelines about all food, regardless of whether it is raw, semi-processed or processed. Guidelines related to the distribution, food hygiene, additives, contaminants, labelling and packaging, methods of analysis and requirements about the import and export of items.

Food Safety Compliance In South Africa

Food safety regulations are guidelines that require establishments that handle food to follow for the health and safety of consumers. These guidelines ensure that food is free from contaminants, is handled under hygienic conditions to prevent foodborne illnesses, and that it is stored correctly to prevent it from spoiling.

Labelling

Packaging and labelling include the specific containers in which food is kept, because this plays an important role in keeping it safe and fresh. Labels also need to indicate ingredients, storage requirements and manufacturing and expiration dates.

Any label on a product must be easy to read and understand, clearly visible, not be misleading and permanent. Basic information such as the name of the product, the address of the producer or manufacturer, ingredients in descending order, the net quantity in metric units, and instructions of use.

Where applicable, any warnings or nutritional information also needs to be clearly shown.

Storage

Food storage requirements outline the way in which food needs to be stored. The type of food, whether it is processed or not, and in which way, all affect the best storage conditions. Furthermore, each food item has different requirements for the type of container it can be stored in and any specific ingredients can change this. Other factors include temperature and shelf life.

When food is transported, there is yet another list of requirements that need to be adhered to.

Food Preparation

Food preparation means that food needs to be handled hygienically, on clean surfaces and clean equipment. Dishes or products are cooked at the correct temperature and using uncontaminated ingredients.

All food handlers must undergo regular medical examinations to ensure there are no illnesses that can spread through handling and preparing food. Hygienic practices such as washing hands, wearing the correct protective clothing (such as hair nets and aprons) and ensuring that these are sterilised is important.

Food Safety Management Practices

All food businesses are required to implement a food safety management system, such as the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) system, to ensure that food products are produced safely and hygienically.

Any business that prepares or handles food needs to ensure the premises and equipment are following hygienic requirements. Important factors include regular cleaning and disinfection with the approved chemicals, using the correct temperature controls for the facility and storage facilities, and having strict guidelines on how to prepare food products. Whether you are processing fresh ingredients into a product, or cooking a dish, this applies to everyone working in any food establishment.

How To Comply With Food Safety Regulations

South African food businesses show that they are compliant with the rules and regulations set out by the compliance regulator. Businesses show this by having a valid Certificate of Acceptability (COA).

This is a permit that the local municipality issues to food businesses. It verifies that your establishment meets the basic food safety and hygiene requirements. No food business can operate without this.

In order to obtain your COA, you need to contact your local municipality to obtain an application form from the Department of Environmental Health. Next, you need to complete the form along with supporting documents and submit it to the municipality. These documents may include a business plan and registration, training certificates for the staff, hazard analysis documents and a layout of your facility. Some documents may not apply to your specific type of business. It is therefore advisable to contact a company that can guide you through food compliance.

A health inspector will need to visit your premises to confirm compliance once documents have been submitted. Thereafter, you must pay any fees relating to the issue of a COA and Business Trading licenses.

Being compliant with food safety regulations isn’t guesswork. It’s straightforward if you simply follow the rules set out by the regulators. Every business should:

  • Frequently review and update the food safety management system to adhere to the latest regulations and standards.
  • Ensure continuous training and education of staff about food safety and management systems.
  • Conduct regular inspections of your premises and equipment to recognise and prevent hazards and potential health risks.
  • Stay informed on food safety regulations and requirements as new updates are released.

Do I need HACCP Certification?

As a prospective food business, chances are you have heard someone mention HACCP. This stands for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points. It can be used to show customers the commitment of the business to produce safe, delicious food.

In South Africa, however, it is not required that businesses have such certification, regardless of whether they are a food truck, restaurant or food processor. It is however necessary for international standards should you consider exporting your products.

The NQA, a global certification body, provides your business with recognised credibility regarding health and safety in the food industry.

The certification has the following benefits for individual businesses who get HACCP certification is:

  • Easier access to international markets
  • Improved health standards
  • Safer food practices have the potential to reduce food wastage.

What are the Consequences of Non-Compliance?

Legal Requirements: Operating a food business without the necessary licenses and permits is illegal in South Africa. Non-compliance can lead to hefty fines, business closures, and even criminal charges.

Failure to comply with food safety regulations in South Africa can result in serious consequences for restaurants and food businesses. Some of the potential consequences of non-compliance include fines, legal action, and damage to the business’s reputation.

How to Stay Informed on Food Safety and Compliance Regulations?

Regulations change as new information is available about the spread of diseases, and contaminants and as food technology develops. Any business owner who is interested in food compliance needs to ensure they stay on top of developments about food safety.

One of the best ways to do this is to stay in touch with the food regulatory bodies, attend conferences and search for news updates in industry publications.

Whether you are a restaurant owner or a street food vendor, ensuring your business is compliant with food safety is a must. Not only does this put you on the right side of the law, it means that you can continue to prepare delicious food for satisfied customers.