7 Steps on How to Start a Legally Compliant Food Business in South Africa

Do you want to start a food business in South Africa or do you need to apply for your Certificate of Acceptability (COA)? Many entrepreneurs have brilliant food business ideas but don’t know where to start and what to do to ensure their food business is legally compliant. While having a great business idea is a good start, all relevant laws and regulations must be complied with to avoid legal complications.

We have compiled a basic step-by-step guide on how to start a legally compliant food business in South Africa. This is also a very helpful guide for home-based food businesses and food trucks.


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Let’s have a look at the basic steps and what you need to start a legally compliant food business in South Africa.

STEP 1: Know Your Product and Associated Legislation

Firstly, determine what product or product range you want to sell.

Knowing your product’s category and what type of preparation / processing / cooking / manufacturing you will apply, will determine the type of Food Safety and Quality legislation you will have to comply with in your business. You may decide to sell cooked food at a restaurant or in a food truck, perhaps open a meat deboning plant or butchery or run a sandwich shop.

You must know what you want to sell, determine its quality characteristics and ensure that the product and processes comply with food safety requirements and legislation.

Keep in mind there a various Acts and Regulations that govern the food industry in South Africa.

One such example is the labelling of food products. When is it necessary to put labelling on food products?

Nutritional Analysis and Labelling (only where applicable)

If your product is not sold immediately after preparation, you must conduct a nutritional analysis that you will need to put on the packaging and/or labelling.

The nutritional analysis will determine your product’s nutritional composition and follow labelling requirements as per Regulations R146 (Regulations relating to the labelling and advertising of foodstuffs).

Typical nutritional information on a label

Here are 4 quick steps to determine if you need labelling for your food products’ packaging:

  1. Get a copy of Regulations R146.
  2. Have a look at Regulation 2 to understand what products need labelling.
  3. Understand the definition of “prepackaged “. You will find it under Definitions, Regulation 1.
  4. Look at Regulation 54 (Exemptions) to see what products are exempted.

Shelf-life Study (where applicable)

In addition, you may have to conduct a shelf-life study validation. This helps determine how long your product will last on the shelf before it is unsuitable for consumption. After conducting a shelf-life study, you will have to put either the “Best Before Date” or “Expiry Date” on the product label.

The shelf-life study should at a minimum take the following into account:

  • Physical characteristics of the product.
  • Sensory properties like taste, smell and colour.
  • Microbiological properties.
  • Chemical properties of the product.

STEP 2: Implement Processes to Ensure Product Safety and Quality

You should implement relevant processes in your food business that will guarantee product safety and quality.

Examples of processes could be (to only mention a few):

  • Temperature control to maintain the cold chain if your product is temperature-sensitive.
  • Housekeeping, cleaning and hygiene measures to ensure your product is prepared in a safe, clean and uncontaminated environment.
  • Personnel Hygiene practices for your Staff to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Waste control to prevent improper storage of waste that can end up contaminating the final product.
  • Pest control measures to prevent pest infestation, which if uncontrolled, could lead to product contamination.
  • Maintenance of equipment and facilities to prevent contamination by foreign materials.
  • Traceability procedures detailing traceability from receiving raw materials to final product dispatch.

You must ensure that you keep documentation. For example, a Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) specifying how the above will be done in the facility. Record keeping is important to ensure there is evidence of complying with these requirements.

STEP 3: Ensure Your Premises and Equipment are Suitable

The construction, design (layout) and location of food premises and equipment should not pose a health hazard and should always promote Food Safety. The hygienic handling and protection of food from all types of contamination are key.

What are the Most Basic Food Safety Requirements?

Regulations R638: 2018 is the most basic food safety legislation every food handling business must comply with.

As per Regulation 5 (requirements for food premises) of Regulations R638,  food premises must be suitable for food handling. Therefore, the food premises must be kept in a condition that does not:

  1. create a health hazard for food and
  2. designed in a way that prevents proper cleaning.

Food premises must protect the food from contamination or spoilage from:

  • poisonous or offensive gases
  • vapours
  • odours
  • smoke
  • soot deposits
  • dust
  • moisture
  • insects or other vectors
  • other physical, chemical (including unintended allergens) or biological contamination
  • pollution
  • rain
  • any other agent whatsoever

In essence, the food premises must be sufficiently covered and protected from any possible source of contamination.

STEP 4: Get the Necessary Training for You and Your Staff

What Food Safety Training do I need as Food Business Owner and as a Food Handler?

All food business owners or managers or any person recognised as a person in charge of the food premises must get food safety training.

The training requirements are set out in Regulation 10 of the R638: 2018. In addition to the training of the persons in charge, ALL food handlers must also receive food safety training annually.

A person in charge who has been found competent can provide this training.

Food Safety training for the Person in Charge of Food Handling Premises

It is the responsibility of the person in charge to keep all training records proving successful training. Should the person in charge not be comfortable providing this training, they may ask a food safety training institution like ASC Consultants to conduct training. Our Regulation R638:2018 Training has proven to be the most popular of all our training interventions.

STEP 5: Attain a Business Licence and a Certificate of Acceptability

To legally sell any foodstuff in South Africa, except unprocessed agricultural products, you must apply for a Certificate of Acceptability from the local authority, which would typically be your municipality. This certificate must be in place before you start trading. 

Once you have applied for the certificate of acceptability (See Annexure A of the regulation on page 31), the municipal environmental inspector will visit your food premises and inspect the following:

  • Food premises in general whether they are conducive for food handling.
  • Surrounding areas and their potential to contaminate food manufactured at your premises, as well as your risk mitigation measures should there be a possibility of contamination.
  • Waste and pest control measures were put in place.
  • Training file for you as a person in charge and that of your staff members.

Your application should be processed by the local authority as soon as possible. An Inspector may require more information from you after the submission of your application.

It is essential to note that the COA must be displayed in an area visible to the public. Should that not be possible, the COA must be immediately available upon request.

A COA cannot be transferred from one person to another and/or from one food premise to another.

STEP 6: Comply With All Other Relevant Legislation

Food Safety incidents are bad for business

What Legislation Do I need to Comply with as a Food Business?

You must comply with all other relevant South African laws and regulations, including municipal by-laws. These include have a valid business licence, health and safety as well as zoning permits. If you sell alcoholic beverages, you definitely must have a liquor licence, which you will need to apply for through your province’s liquor board . Other relevant regulations include the following:

  • The Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act 54 of 1972
  • Basic Conditions of Employment Act 75 of 1997
  • Tax Law; SARS, VAT, Income Tax, Customs Tax,
  • Companies Act 71 of 2008,
  • Close Corporations Act 69 of 1984,
  • Consumer Protection Act 68 of 2009 and the Competition Act 89 of 1998.

Find out additional relevant laws, including those applicable to the product being handled or manufactured.

STEP 7: Implement a Recognised HACCP System Certification

HACCP certification is normally optional depending on customer requirements but there are specific industries where HACCP Certification is compulsory as per Regulation R908 of 2003 and associated amendments. HACCP Certification is compulsory for the following food business


Click on this blog below to find out how you can achieve this.

Please call us for any training needs. We also provide document templates to make it easier for you to implement your preferred food safety management system.

Contact us now for more!

15 Steps on How to Get FSSC 22000 Certification and Grow Your Business

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35 thoughts on “7 Steps on How to Start a Legally Compliant Food Business in South Africa”

  1. What do I do when I have been waiting for a feedback after three months with no response after my firstnapplication went missing and making another application for a food permit plus doing consistent follow-ups to find out how far are they with my application? They keep on saying they are also waiting for a feedback.

    • Hi Charles,

      We are sorry to hear about your struggles with your COA application. The best solution is to stay in touch with them and if possible see if you can find someone else or a senior person to assist you.

      We wish you all the best.

      You are welcome to keep us updated.

      ASC Consultants

  2. Good day
    I would like to start a quarter business in my house. Where do I start or what is required?

  3. Good morning,

    I would like to start a candy making bussiness, what are the requirements for compliance.



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