Until recently, many food-handling companies in South Africa ignored or did not take food safety seriously. The recent Listeriosis outbreak laid bare how prone food-handling businesses are to fatal food safety incidents.
Inadequate food safety measurements in a food handling company can compromise the health of the consumer and in some cases lead to death.
Why do Food Safety Incidents Happen?
Far too many companies usually focus on production and conveniently ignore the necessity of keeping the consumer’s health at the centre of their business.
Many food companies usually are ill-prepared to deal with food safety incidents. Senior Management shows their ignorance and their lack of knowledge regarding food safety through the way they deal with food safety incidents.
What is Food Safety?
Literature defines food safety as a concept that entails the production of food that is free from any potentially harmful hazards.
Food safety hazards are foreign materials present in food, resulting in food contamination.
The four main types of hazards are:
1. Biological Hazards: Microbiological and Macro biological
Biological Hazards consist of Microbiological and Macro biological hazards.
These are tiny substances not always visible to the naked eye. You would need specialized equipment to view and identify these hazards. Microbiological hazards normally cause food poisoning.
Of the four main types of hazards, Microbiological hazards are the greatest threat to food safety.
Macro Biological Hazards
Macro biological hazards include very small livings things that one can see with the naked eye.
2. Physical Hazards
Physical hazards are tangible foreign materials that can cause choking, internal injury and sometimes death.
- broken glass
- staples pins
- pests like rats, mice, cockroaches, flies
- screws and bolts
These would normally get into food because of negligence and poor housekeeping.
3. Chemical Hazards
Chemical contamination occurs when food comes in contact with chemicals, which can lead to chemical food poisoning. This also includes chemical spillage in a food-handling environment (even if the food is not in direct contact).
- cleaning chemicals
- maintenance chemicals
- excessive use of permissible chemicals
- heavy metal presence in foodstuffs way above the recommended limit
- packaging materials that are not food grade, resulting in chemical leaching into the food
An allergy is a medical condition in which exposure to a food or substance, normally a glycoprotein triggers a harmful immune response in a person.
This immune response called an allergic reaction occurs because the immune system attacks proteins in the food that are normally harmless.
The proteins that trigger the reaction are called allergens. The symptoms of an allergic reaction to food can range from mild (itchy mouth, a few hives) to severe (throat tightening, difficulty breathing).
The eight major food allergens that are responsible for most of the serious food allergy reactions in South Africa are:
- tree nuts
- crustacean shellfish
It is, however, important to note that proportionally only a small segment of the population has allergies. In other words, not everyone develops an allergic reaction to these foods.
Why is Food Safety Important?
Food safety is an important aspect of any food business. After all, no consumer would willingly buy food that is likely to make him or her sick. Consumers have become more educated about food safety and the associated risks.
Revenue Loss and Credibility
If a company does in fact experience a food safety incident, it is highly likely that the incident would translate to revenue loss.
Consumers realise the role they play in ensuring the sustainability and profitability of a business. If a company sells unsafe food and the consumer becomes aware of this, they may simply decide to abandon that product range or find a replacement product.
It may take years for the company to earn back consumer confidence and even more years for the company to recover its market position.
Government Regulations and Penalties
Government Regulations have been strengthened to allow government interventions as well as to impose punitive measures for companies that do not comply. This can include a fine of up to 10% of the company revenue for that year and even jail time for the person in charge of the business.
Other Legal Implications
Furthermore, victims of food safety incidents are legally empowered to institute legal action against companies that have been found wanting. Depending on the severity of the offence by a food business, consumers may decide to launch a class action against that company.
Job Losses and Affecting the Country’s Economy
Beyond that, due to the loss of revenue, a company may end up losing business, translating to job losses, which consequently could affect the country’s economy.
The recent Listeriosis incident has severely damaged the reputation of South Africa’s processed meat market. Not only one company lost credibility, but the whole industry.
Many countries including Zambia and Namibia have banned South African cold meat products in response to the outbreak. That translate to hundreds of millions of Rands lost to the South African economy.
It will take a long time for the processed meat industry to recover from this.
The Importance of a Food Safety Management System (FSMS)
First of all. You need an effective Food Safety Management System in place when it comes to handling food, beverages or pharmaceutical products in your company. If you do not have such a system in place, make it your priority.
It is worrying that many businesses do have an FSM system such as HACCP, FSSC 22000, BRC, etc in place, but the effectiveness of the system is not properly verified. Without proper verification, the system might not be as effective as it should be.
The absence of FSM systems or ineffective FSM Systems is the leading cause of food safety incidents. We do not live in a perfect world and food safety incidents happen every day. Having an effective FSM system in place can reduce and even eliminate food safety incidents in your company. It is vital to take swift action and follow the correct procedure when a food safety incident occurs.
Food Safety is not just a convenient aspect of the business, but it is a fundamental aspect of the business. The consequences of not implementing an effective Food Safety Management system can prove detrimental to the health of the consumer and the business itself.
ASC Consultants takes the hassle out of implementing an effective FSM system. You are welcome to contact us if you need any assistance or advice.
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