The unit formally came into being in November 2019, and next to finding its feet, the team has also had to get to grips with operating in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The City of Cape Town’s new Specialised Food Control Unit focuses on more than 650 food manufacturers in the city who produce for both local and international markets, as well as dairy farms.
The function used to be part of the general workload of the City’s Environmental Health Practitioners, but due to the ever-evolving nature of the food trade and the need to ensure food safety, it was decided to establish a dedicated unit.
Among the unit’s core functions are:
- Deal with the implementation and auditing of over 50 pieces of food legislation relating to the manufacture, ingredients, labelling and hygiene requirements at food factories
- Taking of microbiological samples
- Taking of all samples to assess required compositional and chemical compliance, for instance preservatives and colourants
- Advise the food industry of all legislative requirements including labelling
- To ensure that legal action is instituted for repeated non-compliant samples and/or adherence to regulations
- Co-ordinate all food related eventualities such as recalls
- Ensure that all delivery vehicles serving the food factories comply with requirements.
‘With this unit, the City is aligning with guidance from the World Health Organisation around food control, which includes mandatory regulation of enforcement by both national and local authorities. The aim is to protect consumers and ensure that all foods during production, handling, storage, processing and distribution are safe, wholesome and fit for human consumption, conform to safety and quality requirements and are honestly and accurately labelled as prescribed by law,’ said the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Community Services and Health, Councillor Zahid Badroodien.
In recent months, the Food Control Unit has also assisted some manufacturers in the evaluation of their measures to ensure compliance with the regulations on COVID-19 and have interacted with the Department of Employment and Labour on a number of occasions.
‘While the Occupational Health and Safety legislation is the domain of the Department of Employment and Labour, in this challenging time, our surveillance of premises and inspections also include hygiene practices which are all preventative in nature, and not just because of the coronavirus. Even though there is little evidence to suggest that handling food or consuming food is associated with COVID-19, we remind our residents that it is important to always wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after shopping, handling food packages, or before preparing or eating food. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitiser that contains at least 70 percent alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry. Remember, it is always important to follow good food safety practices to reduce the risk of illness from common foodborne pathogens.
‘Environmental Health has also incorporated the COVID regulations that have been published to prevent infections and exposure in an assessment tool that the practitioners are making available to businesses to assess their compliance. This assessment tool works for the manufacturers and the retail food outlets alike,’ added Councillor Zahid Badroodien.