Pioneer Foods’ recall of some of its Safari products is still in progress with more than 90% of the affected products reported to have been retrieved. But yet another food recall in Mzansi has left a bitter taste in the mouths of consumers. Some say they are growing sceptical about food safety standards and practices in the country.
The food manufacturer launched a recall of specific batches of peanuts and raisins, and raw cashew nuts, on Monday (6 December 2021). The batches are sold under its Safari brand in South Africa, Botswana and Namibia.
This follows routine testing at the Safari production site in KwaZulu-Natal, where a batch of products tested positive for low levels of Salmonella typhimurium (“salmonella”).
Deborah-Ann Sharwood, communications manager for Pioneer Foods, tells Food For Mzansi that while they have managed to retrieve 92% of the affected products, the recall process continues. “It must be assumed that it is most likely that the remainder has been purchased by consumers and are not available in store – hence the consumer recall.”
Specific batches ring-fenced for destruction
Pioneer Foods says that, as part of its safety protocols, production was immediately halted upon receiving the test result. The product was placed on hold and the batches ring-fenced. The production site was then deep-cleaned, followed by more sampling.
A limited number of cases of Safari 60g Peanuts & Raisins (best before 27 October 2022) and Safari 100g Raw Cashews (best before 27 June 2022) were released to trade, however, despite having been isolated and ring-fenced for destruction.
The company says it is not experiencing difficulties with quality management and control. “On the contrary, our quality control process identified and attended to the risk. “But unfortunately, as reported, a number of cases inadvertently were despatched. The investigation to attend to the root cause of this is in process,” Sharwood says.
Recalls part of a well-run system
This week’s incident has put a spotlight on quality management and control, and food safety standards at South Africa food factories.
Not too long ago, panic ensued over reports of contaminated noodles that had allegedly claimed the lives of at least five children. In July this year, Tiger Brands recalled 20 million KOO and Hugo canned vegetable products due to a number of defective cans received from a packaging supplier.
And in 2017 and 2018, Enterprise Foods had to recall processed meat products due to listeria contamination that led to the deaths of more than 200 people.
The recently released 2021 Global Food Security Index (GFSI), which measures 58 indicators that drives food security in 113 countries around the world, has rated South Africa’s overall food safety at an excellent 92.7/100, however.
Food safety expert Professor Lucia Anelich further reckons that recalls should be considered good business practice.
In the United States, recalls are conducted on a regular basis, for instance. “Recalls are done specifically with consumer safety in mind to ensure that consumers are not exposed to contaminated foods.Food safety expert Prof. Lucia Anelich
“So, the fact that companies in South Africa are conducting recalls, points to the fact that consumer safety is top of mind here too. Removing contaminated products from shelves is most definitely responsible business practice,” she pointed out.
Well-designed safety management systems
According to Anelich, properly designed, implemented and maintained food safety management systems are key to ensuring the production of safe foods.
Such food safety management systems must also be reviewed on a regular basis to verify that the system is still relevant and functioning as originally intended.
“Food safety is constantly changing. It is therefore important to have competent and continuously trained staff that keep abreast with such changes occurring at a global level.”Food safety expert, Prof. Lucia Anelich
This, she explains, ensures a proactive rather than a reactive approach to food safety.
“However, even under the best of circumstances, zero risk does not exist. Therefore, at times, contamination does occur and when this happens, good business practice dictates that a voluntary recall be conducted.”
What do ordinary South Africans say?
With growing concerns around this matter, Food For Mzansi took to the streets and asked South Africans how they felt about food safety in the country.
Zodwa Mtirara, writer in the Free State
Mass food production has always had questionable hygiene. My view is that we need to go back to being self-sufficient. Producing our own food is paramount.
Our dependence on these companies to produce our food will only expose us to such. I say the sooner we get the land back, the better. The answer to this problem is that we produce our own food. In that way, we can be certain of how it was made.
Olerato Pharasi, varsity student in Gauteng
This is quite concerning because I did not know that this was happening. I’m concerned about food safety in the country and as we know, our country is not the most efficient. It seems like government is not really concerned about what affects us on a micro level.
Who is going to make sure our food is safe and that we don’t get sick from things like peanuts and raisins? You are not going to buy [these products] with the assumption that you would get sick from salmonella. Salmonella. That is terrifying to say the very least.
Lazarus Mlangeni, health and safety practitioner in the Free State
My take is that there are a growing number of illegal foodstuff producers who don’t adhere to the strict health and hygiene protocols prescribed in various legislation and by-laws. These products hit the shelves of informal spaza shops and wholesalers and are “affordable” to consumers as they are cheap.
However, for big brands there is always quality controls and now and then something goes [wrong], caused by many factors including but not limited to failure to comply to quality standards and procedures, sabotage by workers, contamination during handling or packaging or even transporting, etc.
So, the array of reasons is vast, and it is the duty of the producer to report and make known of these defects to the public.
The food production value chain is very complex, and one needs to do serious risk assessment when you investigate such and have a holistic approach, rather than isolating issues.
[Some things] we take for granted, like we buy without checking even basic things such as expiry dates.
Sedgwick Magwedze¸ music producer in the Free State
To be honest, I think the main reason why we get sick is because of our diets. I don’t think there’s a specific food that makes people sick but the whole diet and what people eat on a daily basis.
We would be lying to ourselves if we believed that these products are the only ones with defects.
With some other foods I’ve realised that [companies] won’t publicly abolish them and admit that it is unhealthy. This is because of financial gain.
The one thing that we must understand about food is that financial gain and benefits is the first thing on these companies’ agendas, and not people’s health.
Nojongile Sigwinta, restaurant manager in the Western Cape
As someone who runs a restaurant business, quality matters. If I can’t trust the products, it means I can’t cook it for our customers.
I am worried because I have to cook a certain quality of food for people. So, with these kind of food issues it becomes a problem and it creates doubts.
I have not had personal experience with having to return recalled products but I am aware that there was a time that KOO beans were not available for some time. I then had to switch over to Rhodes beans.
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