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Businesses at risk for neglecting food safety

Businesses handling food – ranging from take-away outlets to restaurants – are putting themselves at risk of being sued by consumers warns food safety specialist and author Graham Ries.

“I am on the phone daily to food manufacturers across the length and breadth of South Africa and I am astounded at the number of food businesses that I come across that either don’t know what food safety training is, or confuse it with health and safety training,” he says.

“Every day millions of people of all ages all over the world suffer from bouts of vomiting and diarrhoea blamed correctly on something they ate.  South Africa is no different.

“Yet, most of the companies I contact believe they are either too small or too well organised to worry about food safety training. One person told me on the phone that they didn’t ‘need any of that…’

“Another establishment told me they were ‘under HACCP Control and couldn’t order anything”

“The mind boggles.

“At another establishment I came across Portuguese people who didn’t even understand English.

“A customer had to translate for me. I was told that the business was very small with no internet and no computer program and only the owner (who didn’t speak English) and three employees.

“How do these people get past the radar of the Government Health Inspectors?” asks Ries.

He points out that the Consumer Protection Act places an obligation on all businesses in which food is handled to protect the consumer.

The risk is real.

While there are no statistics readily available in South Africa, it is estimated that there are around three thousand deaths a year in the United States due to food-borne illnesses.

“One in six Americans falls ill from some form of food poisoning a year,” he says.

“The risk to food outlets like restaurants, take-aways and hotel kitchens lies both in being sued and in the reputational damage.

“Patrons have successfully sued restaurants for costs and damages after being hospitalised”.

Under section 61 of the Consumer Protection Act, consumers are able to sue suppliers and manufacturers of goods (including food) for damages or injuries suffered by them as a result of using or consuming the goods.

“Social networks and Internet are full of warnings from irate customers who believe they have picked up food poisoning from the establishment. That kind of publicity can kill a business”.

It is not only the businesses serving food that are at risk.

“In the case of abattoirs, quite a few tell me that they are too small to need any training.

“And, a butcher once told me that he flatly refused to believe that poor handling of food could lead to food poisoning. A ‘food safety consultant’ had told him that all bacteria are completely destroyed at 70°C and that the food is safe from there onwards.

“I most certainly do not buy from that particular butcher anymore. Not all bacteria are destroyed at 70°C. Not by a long shot,” he says.

Ries, who has published a series of food training booklets in multiple languages, has captured the essence of training on a recently completed personal hygiene DVD designed for use in food businesses of all sizes.

For more information contact: Food Safety in South Africa: Graham Ries: 073 8795602 or email: graham@foodsafetyinsa.co.za