What is a Certificate of Acceptability?

Do you want to start a food business in South Africa and want to know what is a Certificate of Acceptability? A Certificate of Acceptability, also referred to as a “COA” is a food business permit/license.

It is a compliance certificate issued to food handling premises as per the requirements set out in Regulations R638: 2018 (Regulations Governing 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.

A COA for food handling premises confirms that the local authority has inspected the premises and the premises was found compliant with regulatory requirements.

This post was last updated on 18 August 2023

Who Should Apply for a Certificate of Acceptability?

Before any food handling business starts its operations, it is critical that it obtains permission to trade from the local authority.

In South Africa, the Certificate of Acceptability (COA) is typically required for establishments that handle and prepare food, ensuring that they adhere to food safety standards and regulations.

Restaurants, cafes, food vendors, caterers, food processing plants, home-based food businesses and other food handling-related businesses (including transport and distribution) should all apply for a Certificate of Acceptability.

This certificate indicates that the establishment meets the necessary health and hygiene requirements to ensure the safety of the food they handle and serve to the public. It’s an essential step to demonstrate your commitment to food safety and to protect the health of consumers.

Always check with local authorities or regulatory bodies for the most accurate and up-to-date information regarding the specific requirements and process for obtaining a Certificate of Acceptability in South Africa.

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What You Can Expect During an Inspection

The local authority would normally be a municipality and will be represented by a municipal environmental health inspector. The Health Inspector would inspect the premises, whether mobile or immobile, to determine if it complies with all regulations as stipulated in Regulations R638. The different sub-regulations within the regulation have different sets of requirements.

The inspector is required to check the following:

  • The location and structure of the food-handling premises.
  • If good food handling practices are implemented.
  • Record keeping to ensure traceability.
  • Accredited Food Safety training is in place for the person in charge (manager or owner).
  • Food Safety training for all food handlers. This training can be conducted by a suitably qualified person in the business or by a training provider like ASC.
  • Equipment suitability.
  • That effective pest control measures are in place.
  • 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 they issue the Certificate of Acceptability.


The Main Requirements of Regulations R638 in a Nutshell

Regulations R638 consist of 17 Regulations and 7 Annexures and the main regulatory requirements are:

  • Regulation 3: Requirements for a Certificate of Acceptability.
  • Regulation 5: Standards and Requirements for Food Premises.
  • Regulation 6: Standards and Requirements for Facilities on Food Premises.
  • Regulation 7: Standards and Requirements for Food Containers, Appliances, and Equipment.
  • Regulation 8: Standards and Requirements for the Display, Storage and Temperature of Food.
  • Regulation 9: Standards and Requirements for Protective Clothing
  • Regulation 10: Duties of the Person in Charge of Food Premises
  • Regulation 11: Duties of a Food Handler
  • Regulation 12: Standards and Requirements for the Transportation and Handling of Meat and Meat Products
  • Regulation 13: Standards and Requirements for the Transportation of Food

The 5 Basic Steps to Get a Certificate of Acceptability (COA)?

  1. Download a copy of Regulations R638.
  2. Ensure that your facility complies with the requirements as detailed in the regulation, including the required Food Safety training. Our Food Safety Course for Persons in Charge simplifies all the requirements of Regulations R638.
  3. Contact your local authority/municipality and apply for a COA.
  4. An inspector (EHP) will visit and inspect your premises.
  5. If satisfied, the local authority will issue you with a COA.

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

  • Display your COA somewhere clearly visible to the public, if practically possible.
  • 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.
  • If you make significant renovations that might change the scope of your operations, you must inform the local authority.
  • 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.

Conclusion

A Certificate of Acceptability is a food handling business permit confirming that a food handling organisation complies with the 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 Regulations R638 if you handle food that is included in the scope of the regulation.

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

  1. Good Afternoon.
    I have read that a new COA needs to be reissued, under regulations 638 of 2018, meaning if the business has had a COA prior to 2018, they now are required to apply in line with R638? Is this the case.

    Secondly in North West the COA, are dated for validity for a year, i have read where you state that the COA does not expire, of course where no changes in the business.

    Reply
    • Good day Kgomotso,

      Yes you are correct. We recommend you contact your local authority to apply for a COA under the most recent regulation which at the moment is Regulations R638 of 2018. There is no expiry date on a COA but the following 4 conditions do apply where you need to contact the local authority again:

        1. Change of ownership or person in charge.
        2. If you make major changes that will greatly affect the scope of the business.
        3. When a new Regulation comes into affect.
        4. Change of address

      ASC Consultants

      Reply
  2. Good afternoon can you advise in a Franchise arrangement id the Franchisee or the Franchisor responsible for obtaining the certificate. This applies to the Franchise opportunity being in a 3rd party environment eg a Hospital.

    Many thanks
    Theo Valentine

    Reply
    • Hi Theo,

      The Certificate of Acceptability will be issued in the name of the person in charge of the food premises. Which means the person ultimately responsible for the daily operations of the food business. The COA is issued per physical address.

      ASC Consultants

      Reply
  3. As a sub contracted transporter (Road Freight). would we need to apply for a R638 certificate as well in order to transport foods/goods.

    Thanks

    Reply
    • Hi Wayne,

      Yes, you will need to apply for a Certificate of Acceptability from your local authority.

      ASC Consultants

      Reply
  4. Hi There Team

    If I have a food trailer (used for markets and festivals) do I need a certificate for every municipality?

    Thanks for all the help en tips. Will definitely be doing our training through you.

    Kind regards
    Armand

    Reply
    • Hi Armand,

      You will only need to apply for a Certificate of Acceptability from your local authority. We recommend you contact them to find out what is required.

      ASC Consultants.

      Reply
    • Hi Mark,

      A Certificate of Acceptability does not expire, but you will need to notify the local authority if the person in charge as indicated on the certicate change, for example change of ownership. You will also need to notify the local authority if you make major renovations which changes the scope of your business.

      ASC Consultants

      Reply
    • Good day Sasha-Lee,

      We recommend you contact the local authority where the business is located and ask them what the process for the COA application is and if they have an online portal available.

      Kind regards,

      ASC Consultants

      Reply
  5. Hi
    If the businesses are closed due to being noncompliant and the owners are still running it, what are the steps to take?
    Concerned citizen.

    Reply
    • Good Zandile,

      We recommend you contact the local authority / Department of Health regarding any concerns you may have. They should be able to assist you.

      Kind regards,

      ASC Consultants

      Reply
  6. Good day,

    Hope you are well.

    Where can I get an application to apply for an R638 certificate for our warehouse?

    thank you

    Reply
  7. Hi, can you give an indication of what fees, if any would need to be paid for the inspection? I cannot seem to find any information on this.
    Thank you!

    Reply
    • Hi Kirsten,

      Your best option is to contact your municipality regarding the fees. The fees can differ from one municipality to the other. You are welcome to join our free webinar today (29 July 2022 @ 09:00). Here is the link to book your seat: How to Start a Food Business in South Africa

      Kind regards,

      ASC Consultants

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

    Reply

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