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

Do you consider starting a food business in South Africa? This article discusses the steps to take and the regulations to consider. It emphasises the importance of following food safety regulations. A key step is to obtain a Certificate of Acceptability (COA) which requires an inspection of your premises by an environmental health inspector. We also discuss other relevant legislation and the staff training requirements as per Regulations R638. You are welcome to join our very popular free webinar.

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Are you considering starting a food business in South Africa or want 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, you must also consider the relevant food safety laws and regulations 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 guide is also helpful for home-based food businesses and food trucks.

This article offers key information in a clear format, but you are more than welcome to join our very popular free live webinar if you still have questions after reading this article.

How to Start a Legally Compliant Food Business

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

Step 1: Know Your Product, Ingredients and Understand Your Processes

Understanding your product and processes is key, but it goes beyond delicious recipes and good service. South Africa has food safety and quality regulations to keep everyone healthy, and the type of food you handle determines which ones apply to you.

Think of it this way: are you opening a trendy restaurant or a food truck serving street food? Maybe you’re a butcher with a loyal following or the mastermind behind a hot sauce taking the country by storm. Each path involves different food handling processes and may fall under other food safety and quality legislation.

For example, the legislation for serving ready-to-eat meals in restaurants and manufacturing ready-to-eat cold meat products differs.

Knowing what you offer is your secret weapon for navigating South Africa’s food safety and quality rules. There are important guidelines, like the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act (Act 54 of 1972), to ensure safe food practices from farm to fork. Understanding your food journey ensures your business follows the right guidelines and keeps your customers happy and healthy.

ASK YOURSELF: Have I identified my product and mapped out my food handling processes?

If not, here is an example to give you some guidance.

Example of Defining and Describing Your Product and Processes

Say for example you want to make and sell a hot sauce. Answer the following questions by making the necessary notes:

  • What ingredients will you use (be very specific and mention any ingredients or products containing allergens. Also indicate if the ingredients are fresh, dried, fermented, etc.)?
  • Will you add food additives like preservatives, antioxidants, food colouring, flavourings, emulsifiers and sweeteners (this can be part of your ingredients list above)?
  • What processes will you use to manufacture your hot sauce (step-by-step)?
  • Will your hot sauce be shelf-stable (commercially processed) or require refrigeration?
  • If shelf-stable, what heat treatment will you use (pasteurisation, sterilisation)?
  • What container types will you use for your hot sauce (glass jar, plastic bottle)?
  • How will you sterilise the containers before filling them?
  • Will your hot sauce have a label?
  • Will you sell your hot sauce directly to consumers or through retailers? (Retailers may have additional requirements)

Answering these questions will make identifying legislation applicable to your food-handling business easier. (See Step 2).

We encourage you to write a comment in the comment section at the end of this article if you have any questions regarding step 1.

Step 2: Identify the Relevant Food Safety and Quality Legislation for Your Food Business

Now that you have defined your product and processes, you can more easily determine the relevant Food Safety and Quality legislation applicable to your business. Don’t let food regulations discourage you. But you do need to make sure you’re not breaking any laws. We will divide this section into two parts: Acts and Regulations.

Acts

The top three Acts relevant to Food Safety and Quality in South Africa are:

  1. ACT 54 OF 1972 – FOODSTUFFS, COSMETICS AND DISINFECTANTS ACT
  2. ACT 119 OF 1990 – AGRICULTURAL PRODUCT STANDARDS ACT
  3. ACT 40 OF 2000 – MEAT SAFETY ACT

The primary Act relevant to the food industry is the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act (54 of 1972). This is a good starting point for you.

Another excellent resource many food businesses use to provide guidance is the Codex Alimentarius. Please note the Codex Alimentarius is not compulsory legislation but an international set of guidelines for Food Safety and Quality.

Regulations

Each Act has various Regulations, and it’s those Regulations you need to identify that are relevant to your food business. Keep in mind not all Regulations are applicable. This step can be a challenge but we are here to help you.

As a new food business owner we recommend starting with the one Regulation relevant to ALL food businesses: Regulations R638.

1. Regulations R638 – General Hygiene

Regulations R638 refers to regulations related to the general hygiene requirements of food premises and the transportation of food and related matters in South Africa. R638 also governs the Certificate of Acceptability nearly all food handling premises must apply for.

2. Regulations R146 – Labelling

Regulations R146 govern the labelling and advertising of foodstuffs. A well-defined “product” provides the information needed for accurate and compliant labelling where applicable. Labelling helps you follow the rules, preventing legal troubles and keeping transparency with your customers.

4 Quick Steps to Determine if You Need Labelling for Your Food Products
  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” food. You will find it under Regulation 1 (Definitions).
  4. Look at Regulation 54 (Exemptions) to see what products are exempted.

Do you need expert advice regarding labelling requirements? You can book a premium (paid) virtual consultation with one of our consultants.

BOOK YOUR PREMIUM VIRTUAL CONSULTATION HERE

ASK YOURSELF: Have I identified the relevant Food Safety and Quality legislation applicable to my food business?

If not, and you are struggling with this step, you are welcome to visit our legislation resources page (see the link below) or book a premium virtual consultation with one of our expert consultants (see the link above). You are also welcome to leave us comment in the comment section at the end of this article.

Visit our list of Regulations under the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act here.

Step 3: Implement the Relevant Food Safety and Quality Practices and Processes

Implement relevant processes in your food business to guarantee product safety and quality. These processes are called Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) and apply to all food-handling premises.

Examples of Good Manufacturing Practices include (only to mention a few):

  • Good Personal Hygiene Practices: Enforce strict personal hygiene practices for all employees, including regular handwashing, use of protective clothing, and proper grooming.
  • Sanitation and Cleaning Procedures: Establish a robust cleaning schedule for all equipment, utensils, and food preparation areas. Always use approved sanitisers and cleaning agents.
  • Supplier Control: Source ingredients from reputable suppliers who adhere to food safety standards.
  • Temperature Control: Monitor and control temperatures during food storage, preparation, and transportation. Regularly calibrate thermometers to ensure accuracy.
  • Good Storage Practices: Implement a first-in, first-out (FIFO) system to prevent the expiry of ingredients. Store raw and cooked foods separately to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Allergen Management: Clearly label allergens on product packaging. Educate staff about allergen awareness and handling procedures.
  • Pest Control: Implement effective pest control measures to prevent infestations. Regularly inspect and clean areas prone to pest activity.
  • Raw Material Handling Procedures: Develop procedures for receiving, inspecting, and storing raw materials. Clearly label and segregate raw materials based on their status and intended use.
  • Cross-Contamination Prevention: Establish protocols to prevent cross-contamination between raw and cooked products. Implement colour-coding and separate storage areas for allergenic ingredients.
  • Water Quality and Usage: Ensure the water used in food production meets quality standards. Regularly test and monitor water sources and processing water.
  • Waste Management: Develop and implement procedures for the proper disposal of waste. Regularly clean and sanitize waste disposal areas.
  • Traceability and Recall Procedures: Establish a system to trace products from suppliers to consumers. Develop a recall plan to remove potentially unsafe products from the market swiftly.
  • Record-Keeping: Maintain detailed records of all food safety activities, including cleaning schedules, temperature logs, and supplier documentation. Ensure records are readily available for inspection.

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

5 Examples of Food Safety documents for small food businesses
  • Food Safety Policy
  • Hygiene Code of Conduct
  • Supplier Approval and Monitoring
  • Good Manufacturing Practices Checklist
  • Personal Hygiene Checklist
  • Traceability System

ASC Consultants compiled a list of document templates to help small food business owners kickstart their record-keeping process.

VIEW A LIST OF DOCUMENTS HERE DOCUMENTS TOOLKIT PAGE

ASK YOURSELF: Have I implemented all the Food Safety and Good Manufacturing requirements necessary to comply with the most basic Food Safety and Quality legislation?

If not, and you struggle with this step, we highly recommend attending our Food Safety course below, specifically designed for new food business owners. The course is online, self-paced and the most cost-effective accredited option we offer. You can start at any time and finish at your own pace. It’s ideal for people with busy lives.

Join our Online Self-paced Food Safety Practices for Persons in Charge of Food Premises Course here.

Step 4: Understand the Food Safety Training Requirements

Food Safety and hygiene training is a legal requirement stipulated in Regulations R638 but should not be considered an unnecessary financial burden. It does have enormous benefits for any food business. Proper training empowers food handlers and those in charge to implement safe practices that prevent foodborne illness. This section will help you identify basic Food Safety training requirements for your establishment.

1. Food Safety Training for Persons in Charge

As a food business owner, manager, or anyone recognised as the person in charge of the food premises, you have a greater responsibility for ensuring Food Safety. Regulation 10 of Regulations R638 outlines specific training requirements for you. Food Safety training specifically designed for persons in charge equips you to:

  • Identify, prevent and control Food Safety hazards that could harm your consumers.
  • Grasp the importance of Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and sanitation procedures in food handling.
  • Oversee and manage food safety protocols within your establishment. This includes monitoring food temperatures, implementing proper cleaning and disinfection procedures, and ensuring food handler training (to mention only a few).
  • Stay updated on relevant food safety regulations and legislation.

What is the best cost-effective accredited Food Safety training options for persons in charge?

At ASC Consultants we offer the following options for accredited Food Safety Practices training for Persons in Charge:

  1. Online self-paced (a budget-friendly option and you can start any time and finish it at your own pace).
  2. Virtual 2-day classroom via Zoom (more expensive than the online self-paced course, but still very cost-effective).
  3. Physical 2-day classroom (only available for in-house on-site training and a minimum classroom size applies. Most expensive of the 3 options).

View our Food Safety Practices for Persons in Charge training page here.

2. Food Safety Training for Food Handlers

Regulation 10 of Regulations R638 also outlines specific training requirements for food handlers. All food handlers, regardless of experience, require food safety training. This training focuses on the essential practices needed to ensure Food Safety. Food Safety training specifically designed for food handlers will equip them to:

  • Understanding personal hygiene practices to minimise contamination risks.
  • Learning proper food handling techniques, including receiving, storing, preparing, serving food safely, etc.
  • Recognising the importance of temperature control to prevent bacterial growth.
  • Following proper cleaning and sanitation procedures for equipment and food contact surfaces.

Who are allowed to provide Food Safety training for food handlers and how often?

The person in charge can provide food handler training if they have done accredited Food Safety training themselves. However, some establishments prefer to utilise a professional Food Safety training provider like ASC Consultants. Our training for food handlers is accredited and in line with the legal requirements, and ensures your staff receives comprehensive and up-to-date Food Safety knowledge.

At ASC Consultants we offer the following options for accredited Food Safety Practices training for Food Handlers:

  1. Online self-paced (a budget-friendly option and you can start any time and finish it at your own pace).
  2. Virtual 1-day classroom via Zoom (more expensive than the online self-paced course, but still very cost-effective).
  3. Physical 1-day classroom (only available for in-house on-site training and a minimum classroom size applies. Most expensive of the 3 options).

View our Food Safety Practices for Food Handlers training page here.

Step 5: Ensure Your Premises and Equipment are Suitable for Food-handling

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

What are the most basic Food Safety requirements for premises and equipment?

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), food premises must be suitable for food handling. Therefore, the food premises and equipment must be of such a nature that it will not create a health hazard and that the food –

  1. can be handled hygienically and
  2. can be protected effectively by the best available method against contamination or spoilage by poisonous or offensive gases, vapours, odours, smoke, soot deposits, dust, moisture, insects or other vectors, or by any other physical, chemical (including unintended allergens) or biological contamination or pollution.

1. Food Premises Location, Design and Layout

When it comes to food premises the following should also be taken into consideration to ensure compliance with Good Manufacturing Practices:

Location:

  • Proximity to Contaminants: Avoid locations near sources of contamination, such as industrial facilities or waste disposal sites.
  • Accessibility: Where applicable, ensure the premises are easily accessible for deliveries and inspections.

Design:

  • Flow of Operations: Where applicable, the layout design should facilitate a smooth flow of food from receiving to storage, preparation, cooking, and serving.
  • Separation of Areas: Demarcate different areas for raw and cooked food handling to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Ventilation and Lighting: Ensure proper ventilation and adequate lighting to maintain a hygienic environment.
  • Waste Management: Designate specific areas for waste disposal, ensuring it does not compromise Food Safety.
  • Pest Control Measures: Implement measures to prevent and control pests.

Layout:

  • Food Storage: Allocate adequate space for raw and cooked food storage, ensuring proper temperature control and preventing spoilage.
  • Equipment Placement: Arrange kitchen equipment logically to optimise workflow and prevent congestion.
  • Handwashing Facilities: Ensure convenient placement and easy access to handwashing stations for staff.

2. Equipment and Food Contact Surfaces

The selection, maintenance, and usage of equipment and other food contact surfaces in food businesses are critical factors influencing Food Safety. Here are a few key considerations for equipment and food contact surfaces used in food establishments:

Material Selection for Equipment and Food Contact Surfaces:

  • Food-Grade Materials: All equipment that comes into direct contact with food must be constructed from materials approved as safe for food handling.
  • Corrosion Resistance: Choose materials that resist corrosion and are easy to clean and sanitise.

Design and Construction for Equipment and Food Contact Surfaces:

  • Smooth and Seamless Construction: Equipment surfaces should be smooth, seamless, and free from cracks or crevices that can harbour bacteria.
  • Accessible for Cleaning: Design equipment with removable parts or easily accessible areas to facilitate thorough cleaning and sanitation.

Temperature Control:

  • Thermometers: Install accurate and easily readable thermometers to monitor and maintain appropriate refrigerators, freezers, and cooking equipment temperatures.
  • Heat Transfer: Ensure that cooking and holding equipment effectively transfer heat to eliminate harmful bacteria.

Maintenance and Calibration for Equipment:

  • Regular Inspection: Implement a routine maintenance schedule for all equipment to identify and address issues promptly.
  • Calibration: Calibrate temperature-measuring devices regularly to ensure accuracy.

Cross-Contamination Prevention:

  • Separation of Equipment: Design the layout to prevent cross-contamination, separating equipment used for raw and cooked foods.
  • Colour-Coding: Consider implementing a colour-coding system to prevent cross-contact between utensils and cutting boards used for different types of food.

Cleaning of Equipment and Food Contact Surfaces:

  • Easy to Clean: Select equipment that is easy to disassemble and clean thoroughly to prevent dirt and bacteria buildup.
  • Sanitation Protocols: Establish and enforce proper sanitation protocols for equipment, including cleaning schedules and food-safe sanitisers usage.

Not sure if your premises and equipment are suitable for starting a food business?

We can help and have two excellent options available:

  1. Free advice: Join our biweekly free webinar for basic information and group discussions: Join Here
  2. Paid premium virtual consultation: Book Here

Our budget-friendly premium virtual consultation option gives you access to one of our expert consultants for an hour.

Our consultant will provide guidance and give you excellent advice. We also allow for a virtual walkthrough of your premises during the consultation.

Step 6: Apply for a Certificate of Acceptability (Food-handling License)

To legally sell any foodstuff in South Africa, except unprocessed agricultural products, you must apply for a Certificate of Acceptability (COA) from the local authority, typically your municipality.

Once you have applied for the COA, an environmental inspector will visit your food premises and inspect the following:

  • If the food premises in general are conducive to 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 for you as a person in charge and your staff members.

The local authority is supposed to process the application as soon as possible. An Inspector may require more information from you after the application submission.

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 or from one food premise to another.

Visit What is a Certificate of Acceptability? here for more information.

Step 7: Comply With All Other Relevant Legislation

Except for Food Safety and Quality legislation, it is also important to comply with all other relevant South African laws and regulations, including municipal by-laws. Where applicable, these include having a valid business license, health and safety and zoning permits. If you sell alcoholic beverages, you must have a liquor license, which you will need to apply for through your province’s liquor board.

Examples of other relevant regulations include the following:

  • 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.
  • The Businesses Act 71 of 1991
  • Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993
  • To mention only a few.

Also, consider business and public liability insurance requirements.

Kindly note we do not provide legal advice and highly recommend you contact relevant financial and legal professionals, the relevant government departments and municipalities for assistance.

Conclusion

In conclusion, starting a food business in South Africa requires careful planning and adherence to regulations. You can increase your chances of success and ensure your business is legally compliant by following the steps outlined in this article. Remember, the key is to obtain a Certificate of Acceptability (COA) and to ensure that your premises meet all the requirements. With careful planning, you can turn your dream of starting a food business into a reality.

Not many things in life are free, but we are dedicated to helping small food business owners. Join our free webinar to help you navigate the complexities of starting a food business in South Africa. Sign up today to learn more about the regulations, permits, and other important considerations for food businesses.

Comments and Questions

Please leave us a comment in the comment box below if you have any questions or suggestions. We love to hear from our website visitors.


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

    • Hi Irene,

      You are welcome to attend our free webinar where the presenter will explain the process to you. You can join here: Free Webinar

      ASC Consultants

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
    • 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

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

    Reply
  3. Good morning,

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

    Regards,
    Gala

    Reply

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