South African Food Recalls – What does the Department of Health Have to Say?

Angela Jordan
 January 23, 2015
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Food Safety

Following on from our September 2014 article, from our Western Cape branch, with regards to the lack of recalls in South African, let’s see what the National Department of Health has to say about the matter. As stated in the article, there were only about 6 recalls a year in South Africa, generally all by large corporations. As I am sure you can imagine, with many companies lacking adequate recall systems, having untrained staff and wanting to avoid the publicity, many ‘should be’ recalls are in fact swept under the carpet. Let’s explore what the National Department of Health has to say about the recalling of food products in South Africa.

In June 2004, ‘Policy Guidelines on National Food Safety Alerts and Official Food Product Recalls in South Africa’ was released. These guidelines came about as a result of an incident in February 2002 where 2 children died from botulism poisoning after consuming a canned food product. The Department of Health decided that there was a need to streamline the co ordination between the departments involved in food control.

According to the policy, national food safety alerts refers to steps taken by the national health authority aimed at informing consumers of a potential or real health risk deriving from a specific foodstuff that could still be available at food outlets or homes of consumers. A food safety alert may, in some instances, be followed by a food product recall. Industry may voluntarily issue a food safety alert requesting consumers to return the product. If industry fails to issue an alert, the National Health Authority may issue a national food safety alert, with the provincial and local level of governments being notified. The Department will also issue a media release.

The policy then goes on to define specific procedures that should be followed during an official food product recall. These include

1. identifying if there is a need for the recall

2.  convening of a committee and issuing instructions

3.  notifying the public

The Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act prevents any person from selling food that is unfit for human consumption, but there is no legislation that directly forces any food business to initiate a recall.

How can one be guaranteed that the necessary information will get to the National Department of Health, timeously, for an alert to be issued, if not done so by the company themselves? Good to have a national policy in place, but this does not make me as a consumer feel any safer. All companies, not just some, should know about the effects of not recalling a harmful product. Yes, the initial publicity is not good, but the fact the manufacturer has prioritised the consumers safety, makes one feel a whole lot better about purchasing goods from that manufacturer in the future. Rather a bit of bad publicity than have a few severely ill consumers or deaths on your hands.

Recently, when shopping at a major retail chain, I saw stickers placed on product packaging stating that this product contains a specific allergen, but when I purchased the product a few weeks prior, this sticker was absent. Why should this be allowed? Has the manufacturer or retailer thought about the effects on the public? I did not see any notifications being released to the public.

Have a look at the National Guidelines at www.health.gov.za and give us your comments

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