Cape Town promotes food safety on World Environmental Health Day

Renewed awareness drive comes ahead of World Environmental Health Day on Wednesday 26 September with the theme of Global Food Safety and Sustainability
 
‘This year’s WEHD theme of ‘Global Food Safety and Sustainability’ aims to
support the provision of more safe food, to make use of precious water and
nutrient resources, and for communities to increasingly value sustainable food
production.’ 
 
Cape Town’s Health Department is encouraging consumers to read the labels on food items and familiarise themselves with the terms used and what they mean. This renewed awareness drive comes ahead of World Environmental Health Day with the theme of Global Food Safety and Sustainability

Food Safety 

‘This year’s theme is not just a focus on safer food, but also on sustainable food production. There are challenges to food safety and we’ve seen this with recent events, including rumours of fake food and complaints of so-called expired food. New threats to food safety are constantly emerging and we need to educate residents about the role they and the City play to ensure a safe food supply,’ said the City of Cape Town’s Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security; and Social Services, Alderman JP Smith.
 
Food safety is the mandate of the City Health Department, and part of the routine function of environmental health practitioners (EHPs) are to regularly inspect premises. This year, the department aims to educate residents about food labels and the date stamps on food products. 
 
‘In terms of labelling regulations, there is no legal term such as “expired food”. Food has “best before”, “sell by” or “use by” dates. These dates are not a clear-cut indication of food safety, but rather an indication of quality in terms of nutritional value, taste, texture and colour,’ Alderman Smith explained. 
 
In other words, the best before or sell by date does not mean that the product has gone bad, but rather that the manufacturer cannot guarantee the nutritional value or that the foodstuffs will still taste and look the same as they should. EHPs do not have the authority to unilaterally seize and destroy these products simply because these foodstuffs exceed the best before or sell by dates.
 
‘The regulations are written this way to prevent unnecessary food wastage and there are strong lobby groups that fight undue food wastage. Simply disposing of foodstuffs because they have reached their sell by or best before date would result in large amounts of perfectly edible foodstuffs being wasted,’ said Alderman Smith.
 
In cases where these best before dates have been reached and the EHP has evaluated the product and found that the food is unwholesome or contaminated, the products may be siezed.  
 
With perishable foodstuffs, especially where the cold chain is important, the products should ideally not be offered for sale beyond the best before dates.
 
‘The purpose of the labelling regulations is there to enable the consumer to make informed decisions. Consumers should check the date markings and make informed decisions about the food they purchase,’ said Alderman Smith.

Food Fraud

Consumers should beware of the food-related shams that exist, including counterfeit foodstuffs or fake goods.
 
‘Food fraud is an intentional and financially-oriented act that can cause harm to consumers, public health, and the economy. Fraudsters intentionally substitute, add, tamper with or misrepresent food, ingredients or packaging for financial gain.
 
Food fraud can have negative effects on consumers’ health and may even lead to public health risks,’ explained Alderman Smith.
 
A recent example is the coloured cane sugar syrup being labelled and marketed as honey, or mince labelled as beef mince when in fact it consists of the meat of one or more animals other than beef. 
 
Other shams include reproducing the label of an established and well-known product and putting it on inferior food products.
 
‘Consumers should be vigilant and be careful of offers on established brand products that seem too good to be true. Check on the quality of the label of the product. Established brands spend a lot of time and money on producing quality labels and producing these labels is expensive,’ said Alderman Smith. 
 
The South African labelling standard requires all foodstuffs to be labelled in English and, where possible, a second official language. If labels are in a foreign language only, these products are not complying with local law and consumers should be cautious. This is the time that you should contact your nearest environmental health office and report the matter for investigation,’ said Alderman Smith.
   
Last year, the City’s Organisational Development and Transformation Plan (ODTP) was adopted by Council to improve the way the administration works.
 
‘A key commitment of the ODTP is providing quality health services for all. We are fulfilling that mandate by providing practitioners who ensure the health, safety and well-being of our residents,’ said Alderman Smith. 
 
In addition, the Health Department is in the process of establishing a Specialised Food Control Unit that will focus on food safety. This is one of several changes in the pipeline for the Environmental Health Service which is being bolstered by a R9,2 million injection for the creation of 14 new posts. 
 
It is envisioned that the Food Control Unit will be able to:
Provide improved guidance to manufacturers and ensure compliance
Help solidify the application of labeling regulations
Ensure uniformity in the implementation and interpretation of new legislation across the City
Improve surveillance, monitoring and enforcement of legislation
 
‘The new Food Control Unit will focus on the more than 800 food manufacturers in Cape Town that produce for the local and international markets, as well as dairy farms. It is also an opportunity to improve monitoring of products coming into Cape Town and ensure that these are legally compliant and safe for consumption,’ said Alderman JP Smith.
 
‘Consumers will benefit as the level of confidence in the City’s ability to deliver on its mandate to ensure safe food will be enhanced,’ added Alderman Smith.