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High hygiene standards needed to protect consumers

South Africa’s food safety processes have evolved to such an extent that consumer safety is safeguarded all along the entire supply chain.

Food safety is a major concern during the Covid-19 outbreak, and consumers, retailers and producers are all understandably worried about keeping their production lines and outlets uncontaminated and virus free.

The managing director of Industroclean, Emma Corder, explained that high standards of hygiene are needed in the food chain from production to being on placed retail shelves. 

“To protect the entire supply chain, high standards of hygiene are required right from the production process up until when it arrives on retail shelves.” 

SA already high hygiene for food production

Fortunately, South Africa’s food production safety standards have already progressed to a point that most of the steps required to safeguard consumer safety are already in place.

In the meat production sector, producers have to follow Regulation 692 which was put in place after the listeriosis outbreak in 2017. As we have learnt listeriosis is a far more persistent food-borne contaminant. Therefore, these measures are more than sufficient to ensure that Covid-19 is not transmitted through meat handling.

This requires them to:

  • Implement a cleaning schedule for the food preparation space, detailing who cleans were, how they clean and with what they clean.
  • Use colour coding to separate different areas – for instance, production and front of the house – and the colour of the cleaning materials must match the area it can be used in.
  • Use only SANS-approved cleaning chemicals. 
  • Ensure that two cleaning steps are followed:
  • Degrease to remove any protein build-up and then disinfect to remove bacteria (or viruses) at a microscopic level. 

The South African government has added the additional requirement that staff wear masks while working with foodstuffs, and those hand sanitisers with an alcohol content of at least 70% must be used.

“Essentially, in this area of food production, workers should continue cleaning and disinfecting in the same way, with the additional step of applying hand sanitiser and then making sure that critical points have been well cleaned on a daily basis with a disinfectant cleaner suitable for food processing environments.”

WHO advises raw vegetables and fruits should be cleaned

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that vegetables and fruit that are eaten raw should be thoroughly cleaned with clean water before consumption.

Fruit and vegetable producers are compliant at least with Global G.A.P. (Good Agricultural Practices), a standard for demonstrating on-farm food safety and sustainability. Complying with these control points and compliance criteria means that producers can sell their products both globally and locally.

High-end retailers like Woolworths locally and Marks & Spencer in the UK have a further requirement called the British Retail Consumer (BRC) standard, which is far more exacting, requiring food producers to complete. For example, a daily audit of their factory windowpanes, to ensure that there is no possibility of glass contaminating the products.

Retailers are adopting the highest health and safety standards to prevent the spread of Covid-19 once produce reaches their shelves. However, the public has a role to play as well.

“For retailers, one area of concern is shopping trolleys and baskets, as they are an obvious source of contamination due to them being used by high volumes of shoppers in one day. I would recommend using hot water high-pressure washers together with detergent for the efficient cleaning of these items.”

According to the World Health Organisation the virus can live for up to 72 hours on surfaces like plastic or stainless steel, but the viral load of these surviving particles does not seem to be significant enough to result in infection.

Follow store regulations

Corder recommends following the regulations laid out by each store that you visit. She added that if you have high-risk individuals in your home, you can also sanitise each food item purchased before entering the house. She also added that you should clean your hands and remove your shoes before entering.

“Those countries that have had the greatest success in beating Covid-19 are those in which the government and the public have worked together.”

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