South African Food Industry Legislation Part I

If you’re thinking of starting and managing a food handling business, there’s a couple of things you need to know.

  1. It’s not as easy as you think. There’s a lot of legal red tape and hoops to jump through before you can even begin setting up a business.
  2. Foodborne illnesses affect thousands of South Africans every year because of poor food management. Remember the Listeriosis outbreak in 2018?
  3. Most of the public isn’t aware of the laws and regulations protecting them from harm caused by food contamination.
  4. As someone working in a food handling business, you have a responsibility to know these regulations and protect your consumers.

Having to know so many legal standards might seem scary, but don’t worry, only certain regulations will apply to your business depending on what product you’re trying to sell. You can also talk to your local authority (municipality) as well as consultants specialising in these fields. They can help you in gathering this information.  This article will provide you with the basic information you need to get started on knowing your legislation in South Africa. These are only a guideline however, and there are more than likely going to be other legislations which you should consider depending on your specific business.

The Difference Between Food Safety and Food Quality

Before we continue, make sure you understand the difference between food safety and food quality, because both are mentioned in legislation, but mean different things when it comes to running a successful food business.

Food safety – is making sure that food will not cause harm to a consumer if it is eaten or prepare as intended e.g., preventing hazards entering the food
For example: If you buy meat, and it is contaminated with bacteria like Listeria, that is a food safety concern.
Food quality – refers to the desirable features of the food e.g., taste, color, weight
For example: If you buy meat, and it has a slimy texture or weighs less than the packaging claims, these are food quality concerns.

Who Oversees Food Safety and Quality Legislation?

In South Africa, legislation is managed at three levels: national, provincial, and local. Nationally, there are three main government bodies which set out the laws and regulations relating to food safety and quality:

  • The Department of Health
  • The Department of Trade and Industry
  • The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development

You will often find that it is your local municipalities or authorities that enforce these legislations, and they may also have a set of bylaws which will apply to you depending on where you are in the country.

Let’s break down what each national authority does:

The Department of Health (DoH)

The Department of Health is mainly focused on the health and safety of consumers, workers and all people involved in the industry. It works with other sectors to create standards for hygiene and safety practices and says what goes into food and what shouldn’t go into food. Regulations which relate to these factors fall under their control.

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI)

This department focuses mainly on the economic and commercial policies involved in food businesses. They enforce the laws which surround the protection of consumers and monitoring of commercial and business activities. There are four main departments which fall under them:

1. The South African Bureau of Standards (SABS)

The SABS develops and promotes guidelines and standards (legal or recommended) which many food industries make use of. They are the people who update and decide which standards are made legally compulsory through regulations. For example: SANS 885 was a recommended standard for processed meat products and as per the government gazette NO. 1058 of 2019 is now compulsory standard for businesses in the processed meat industry . They also offer testing and training services to help businesses get necessary and useful certifications to operate, such as internationally recognized ISO training.

2. The National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications (NRCS)

The NRCS is a department which separated from the SABS in 2008. Its main job is to create technical and compulsory standards within regulations relating to public health and safety, environmental protection, and economic trade. This department is mainly concerned with the following industries: chemicals, materials and mechanical, electrotechnical, food and associated industries and automotive industries.

3. The South African National Accreditation System (SANAS)

SANAS is the only national accreditation body in South Africa. Its job is to monitor and accredit businesses as being competent when it comes to following standards and regulations, especially with regard to calibration and good laboratory practices. They provide services and training to inspect businesses and assess them for competency. Being accredited by this department is internationally recognized.

4. National Metrology Institute of South Africa (NMISA)

NMISA controls national measurement standards. Their main job is to make sure that the measurements used in science, industry and law in South Africa are correct and uniform, with all making use of International System of Units (SI) so that they can be internationally acceptable.

The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD)

This department focuses on the agricultural sector and all its activities. If your business has a part focused on raw production or farming – these are the people that you want to focus on.  The DALRRD is responsible for providing Food Business Operating (FBO) codes to agricultural industries which do not work with or sell processed food. This includes businesses that are involved with produce farming, animal farming, or abattoirs. Processed food is any foodstuff which has been changed from its raw state. The agricultural industry usually deals with raw foods, but as soon as they have been sliced, cut, or changed in any way, they are considered processed and require different licensing.

There are very specific licensing and regulatory requirements for raw food industries that fall under the control of the DALRRD, especially for meat industries.

These can be found under Acts such as:

  • Animals Protection Act (No. 71 of 1962)
  • Veterinary and Para-Veterinary Professions Act (No. 19 of 1982)
  • Fertilisers, Farm Feeds, Agricultural Remedies and Stock Remedies Act (No. 36 of 1984)
  • Animal Diseases Act (No. 35 of 1984)
  • Meat Safety Act (No.40 of 2000)

Now that you know who’s in charge, let’s look at what they say about how to manage your food handling business.

General Legislations Relating to Food Businesses

Almost all the legislations you need in South Africa can be found online through the government’s official website:
You can check out their gazettes by using keywords to search for regulations specific to the food industry e.g., “foodstuffs”, “agriculture”, or even your specific product. The site isn’t very well organized however, and we do still recommend seeking external advice to cover all your bases.

This article covered the main departments that oversee food safety and quality legislation:

  1. The Department of Health
  2. The Department of Trade and Industry
  3. The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development
  4. Local authorities

An important thing to remember is that your business is firstly: a business, and secondly: a food handling business. That means that you also need to follow the legislations relating to businesses in general in South Africa.

Feeling a little more confident now? Remember that you can always ask for help. Our job as food safety consultants is to provide you with the necessary knowledge and tools to manage a quality business with the best practices.  Good luck on your food business journey!

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