These original grocery products have been identified as some of the popular items that are being cloned in the illicit food market. Scores of posts are doing the rounds on social media warning of fake foods that pose a possible health threat, including baby formula. Picture: ANA Pictures

Johannesburg - Counterfeit goods and expired food have been confiscated during raids, with health practitioners warning communities from consuming such items.

Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi’s spokesperson Popo Maja on Tuesday said the department had received a high volume of complaints over the past few days about dangerous food items being sold in townships across the country.

“We take these allegations seriously as potential for danger to human health,” Maja said.

He said among the foodstuff that had surfaced from social media and been described as fake, were harmful food colourants in some goods.

Maja said the shocking revelations included fake 1.25-litre Coca-Cola bottles with “moving things” inside, 1.25-litre bottles of imitation Fanta Grape, Stoney Ginger Beer with no size indicated, a suspicious Fanta Orange 1.25 litre, Twist Granadilla 2 litres; tonic water 1 litre, Albany brown bread and Blue Band margarine, syrup being sold as honey and baked beans in a fish tin.

He said it was not clear where these imitations were being manufactured and the ministry had lodged an investigation to establish the source.

However, some consumers believe there are dozens of backyard factories keeping a constant supply of these unhealthy essentials that end up in unsuspecting people’s homes.

Maja warned about the dangers of consuming the seemingly cheap imitations of the original foodstuffs.

“Foodborne disease outbreaks in South Africa are typically caused by food contaminated with bacteria, viruses or parasites and harmful colourants. Sudan Red dye colourant is prohibited for use in foods products in South Africa, as per the Regulations Relating to Food Colourants (R1008) of the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectant Act 54 of 1972.

“Municipalities have embarked on blitzes to inspect foodstuff sold mainly in township outlets. This is a special operation over and above the routine monitoring done by environmental health practitioners,” Maja said.

He said the food industry had also been requested to confirm the authenticity of the potential counterfeit foodstuffs which included verifying the brands of their products.

Videos and pictures that have surfaced on social media show people complaining about bread being spongy, while one shows eggs being “manufactured”.

Maja said the authenticity of the footage and pictures could not be verified at this stage.

“The shop owners whose premises structure do not comply, especially with rodent proofing, uncleanliness and housekeeping, are given a letter of contravention and a grace period to correct the issues raised. If these are not attended to, legal action is taken and ultimately the facility is closed,” he said.

Bread eaten by rats and cats roaming in mini supermarkets selling food in townships were sights that greeted inspectors and communities when these spaza shops, mostly owned by foreign nationals, were raided.

The Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality is conducting raids in various areas to inspect the little corner shops.

Counterfeit goods and expired food have been confiscated with health practitioners warning communities from consuming such items.

Mealie meal, cooking oil, baked beans, tinned fish, snacks, some Coca-Cola products, Valpré bottled water and baby food, including Purity and infant formula, were among many other foods residents have raised an alarm about.

“In the previous month alone, of the 211 facilities inspected, 115 have been found to be non-compliant with the regulated general hygiene requirements for food premises, and transport of food and related matters requirements.

“Some factors that have been identified as a concern that the public needs to be vigilant of is the labelling of the products. It has been discovered that in most cases the sell-by dates of the products have been either tempered with or products are sold after the sell-by date has long passed,” said Ekurhuleni spokesperson Themba Gadebe.

The municipality has conducted raids in Tembisa and more raids should be expected, the municipality has warned.

Residents said Obama Supermarket on corner Sheba and Sobhuza in Sethama Section was found to have a toilet inside and no window. The shop was closed on Tuesday.

Mercy Nkuna said: “The food they are selling us is a crime against our health. The government must take responsibility because they allowed these people to come into our country.

“South Africans are tired of what is happening and we will be accused of xenophobia when we are just fighting for our lives.”

Nkuna said she had also bought fake washing powder, mealie meal and pain tablets from the tuckshops.

Nancy Lebeya, 37, said her health had deteriorated when she started drinking Coca-Cola she bought there.

“I have stopped buying from them. I would rather walk to Pick n Pay or Usave supermarkets about 20 minutes away from where I live,” Lebeya said.

Shop owner Abdul Mahna said he was confident about the food he sold.

“We buy in bulk that is why we are able to sell at reasonable prices. I am not at liberty to divulge where we get our stock,” he said.

Dietitian Mbali Mapholi warned that eating fake foods could cause serious health risks and be fatal.

“One of the most serious and obvious dangers is that there might be food containing poisonous ingredients. Those are all the ingredients that are unregulated, meaning that they have not gone for testing in terms of how safe they are for human consumption,” Mapholi said.

She said it was possible that there could be food that was brought in to the country for the purpose for selling citizens something at a cheaper price, just to get money.

“We do have some intelligence already, but because there are operations that are going to be carried out, we cannot disclose the information right now until we have conducted the raids that we intend to carry out. It’s normally in townships.”

National Consumer Commission spokesperson Trevor Hattingh called on people to report fake or substandard goods to them.

“It’s not going to be that effective to start your own social media campaign - next thing you will have vigilante enforcement.”

Additional Reporting by Nokuthula Zwane and Chulumanco Mahamba. 

The Star