What is a Certificate of Acceptability?

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What is a Certificate of Acceptability? A Certificate of Acceptability, popularly known as a COA or a food business permit, is a compliance certificate issued as per the requirements set out in regulation R638:2018 (Regulations Governing General Hygiene Requirements for Food Premises, the Transport of Food and Related Matters).


A COA in food handling premises confirms that the local authority has inspected the premises and was found compliant with regulatory requirements. Regulation R638:2018 governs the general hygiene requirements for food premises, the transport of food and related matters. It is mandatory for any food business whose operations fall under The Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act 54 of 1972.

Who is Regulation R638 applicable to?

The R638:2018 regulation is applicable to both mobile and immobile food premises. Before any food handling business starts its operations, it is critical that it obtains permission to trade from the local authority. The local authority would normally be a municipality and will be represented by a municipal environmental health inspector. The Health Inspector would be inspecting the facility to determine if it complies with all regulations as stipulated in Regulation R638. The different sub-regulations with the regulation have different sets of requirements.

What are the main regulations of the R638 Regulation ?

The main regulatory requirements pertain to the duties of a person in charge of the food premises, food handlers, temperature requirements, traceability information, waste management, and pest control. The inspector is required to check the actual structure of the food premises, the good food handling practices the facility has implemented, record keeping to ensure traceability, the training of the person in charge (manager or owner) including food handlers, equipment suitability, pest control measures put in place, and any other health hazards that could potentially contaminate the food. Only when the inspector is satisfied that the food handling operations of the business pose no harm to the food would he or she issue the certificate of Acceptability.

How do I get a Certificate of Acceptability (COA)?

  • Get a copy of R638 from the Department of Health’s website – www.health.gov.za (“Search” for “638”).
  • Ensure that your facility complies with the requirements as detailed in the regulation.
  • Contact your local authority/municipality and apply for a COA.
  • An inspector (EHP) will visit and inspect your facility.
  • If satisfied, the local authority will issue you with a COA that you will need to display unless it is practically impossible do so.

What are the Rules for the Certificate of Acceptability (COA)?

  • Display your COA somewhere conspicuous, if practical.
  • If not possible, keep a copy on hand.
  • If the Person-in-Charge of a facility changes, you must inform the local authority within 30 days to issue a new COA.
  • The COA applies to a specific food premise, and if you move your food premises, you will need to apply for another COA.
  • A customer has a right to request to see your certificate of acceptability.
  • A certificate of acceptability is applicable to mobile and immobile food premises.


A certificate of Acceptability is a food handling business permit which confirms that a food handling organisation is conforming to basic food safety and hygiene requirements. It is the most basic form of government-issued compliance certification a food handling organisation requires before implementing more stringent requirements. It is important to note that it is mandatory to have a certificate of acceptability issued under regulation R638 of 2018, if you handle food that is included in the scope of the regulation.


2 thoughts on “What is a Certificate of Acceptability?”

  1. Please can you forward a copy of R638 as this is not available on the Department of Health’s website? Thank you


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