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Cape Town - One in five food products tested by the City of Cape Town’s health inspectors falls foul of food safety rules.
This has been established by the Cape Argus in the wake of the meat and biltong scandals that broke last week.
City Health has confirmed that its Environmental Health Department typically found “between 72 percent and 79 percent of food samples complied” with regulations.
The department comprises about 130 officers who are tasked with inspecting some 10 000 restaur-ants, cafes, bakeries, butcheries, general dealers and other establishments dealing with food across the city.
“They are generally visited every six months depending on the standards maintained at the premises. Samples are taken at random according to a roster and the capacity of laboratories. They are all unannounced,” the city said. “For the period 2011 to 2012, about 7 900 samples were submitted for analysis.”
Asked what offences were typically picked up for further investigation, the department said there were several.
“City Health’s programme of sampling and checking that labelling is correct is just one element of the work that the environmental health practitioners do with regards to food safety and control, which is in turn one part of the overall scope of their function.
“Labels are scrutinised when the samples are taken for analysis and, as indicated, the compositional analyses may highlight a labelling infringement.
“During routine inspections at the over 10 000 food premises, environmental health practitioners may look at labels of the products on the shelves and address any infringements accordingly. The public are also encouraged to report any concerns about labels to the city for investigation.”
New labelling legislation promulgated under the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act was introduced in March last year to address, among other things:
* The protection of the consumer from exploitation.
* The protection of the consumer from false or misleading claims.
* The provision of information to the consumer as is necessary to make an informed choice according to food safety and health-related individual needs and preferences.
Microbiological testing was also conducted, which focused on potential problem products, “especially products which are dependent on the cold chain; products which are handled or cut post-cooking; or products which undergo many processes”.
“The bacteriological non-compliance is more indicative of poor hygiene practice issues as opposed to major health issues,” the city said.
Regarding meat, the city said: “The sampling programme for compositional compliance mostly focuses on preservatives, colourants, total meat content, micronutrients, aflotoxins, and where specific claims are made on labels.
“… the use of the different species of meat is not prohibited as long as the meat is obtained from an approved source and is correctly labelled, allowing the public/buyer the opportunity to make an informed decision. The labelling and advertising regulations (promulgated in terms of the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act) governs food labelling. In the case of meat products, the species needs to be indicated in the list of ingredients. The labelling regulations also make provision for the specific declaration of allergens in any product.
“The use of soya and wheat in meat products is allowed. However, the declaration thereof on the label of the product is important as soya and gluten are listed allergens in the legislation. It therefore needs to be declared in the list of ingredients and as allergens.”
The importation of meat was dealt with by the Department of Agriculture before the consignments were released on the local market.
“Part of this control entails the certification and clearances by the export countries addressing the food safety components of the meat,” the city said.
Consumers could contact the city’s call centre at 086 010 3089, or their local environmental health office.
“The complaints are investigated by the Environmental Health Practitioners and, depending on the outcome, the owner may be served with a letter and/or health education may be carried out,” the city explained.
Asked how many establishments had been closed recently, the city said: “No shops were closed down. Statistics on legal action are not kept centrally, but dealt with within the individual health districts. These statistics include legal action for non-food related issues, so it is not possible to give stats on food-related issues alone.”