Food Safety - Should we demand it?

BY Aileen Uys

Just like the standard of electricity supply in our country, the standard of food safety is simply not up to scratch, and not on a world class standard. The problem doesn’t so much lie at the large multi national food producers or the exporters. They have a brand to protect and tend to understand the need to comply. The real food safety problems are hidden in the restaurant, catering, small factory and informal sectors of the food industry.

How often does one go to say a farm stall and buy a product without any sell-by dates or allergen declarations, despite their being newly implemented laws on the matter? How regularly is one totally underwhelmed by the quality of well-known reputable restaurants ? Once in a while, one does get sick from something one ate. One would try to piece together what it was and then give up because no one is interested and wants to take responsibility. Try to go to the local fast food joint and tell them you got sick from the burger you ate yesterday, and see how far you get.

The first part of the problem is in the ignorance of the owners of these smaller food operations. They generally fail to realise the massive responsibility it takes to make food for others. They underestimate the risk of being mediocre in terms of food safety. They fail to train and educate their food operators properly. Washing of hands, maintaining the cold chain, dating items in the fridge or only ensuring the perfect plate of food goes out to the customer isn’t something that happens automatically. It needs to be trained. The workers need to understand the basics behind food safety and quality. The common response I get when I ask factory or shop owners about training is “ Why do I have to train my workers if I don’t have to?“
The second part of the problem is that we have excellently constructed, but poorly policed laws. It is in fact a law that one has to train one’s food workers. It can be found in many places including regulation 962. But nobody told Mr. Small Food Producer or Mrs. Farm stall owner about R 962 and nobody has ever properly inspected him/her to that standard.

The only real practical solution to increase the level of food safety, is to create awareness at consumer level. Consumers should demand that there is a sell by date on the farm stall jam, or an allergen statement on the market rusks or question the restaurant owner whether the sauce with the strange smell was made fresh. They need to ask questions about training and conforming to laws. Hopefully if the consumer applies the pressure and demands only safe good quality food, the business owners will start understanding the need for complying and the overall standards can be raised. As for the electricity crisis , unfortunately I can’t help…


 February 10, 2015
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Food Safety
Aileen Uys

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