The importance of food safety in Africa
Food and cosmetic manufacturers who neglect to ensure their products are free of harmful bacteria and safe for human consumption run the risk of damaging their brands and losing local and export markets. We spoke to Anza Bester, business development manager, about safety standards on the continent and the services provided by Swift Micro Laboratories
Why is it important for food manufacturers in Africa to be sure their products are safe?
Consumers need to have confidence in product quality, so goods that come to market must be safe. While local governments set minimum criteria to control the safety of products released onto the market, any company exporting to the EU or the United States must understand it will have to comply with food safety criteria set in those countries.
Implementing systems that ensure product safety starts with a proper risk assessment to determine potential hazards. Many of these threats could be measured and controlled with a carefully-planned, microbiological monitoring programme. Simply put, implementing a system based on HACCP principles cultivates a proactive approach towards food safety.
What are the most common pathogenic bacteria found in contaminated food in Africa that should be included in a microbiological monitoring programme?
Six types of harmful pathogens are commonly found in food items: Salmonella, E.coli, Listeria monocytogenes, Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium perfringens and Bacillus cereus.
Salmonella and E.coli are normally animal and human related, so we would specifically look for those in companies that work with animal products. If any processes are applied to destroy these bacteria, we would recommend post-processing tests to ensure those organisms had been eliminated.
Companies in Africa do not always have automatic processes in place which means there is a lot of manual handling – and this brings with it the risk of Staphylococcus aureus. This organism is often found on the hands of those who work with food, so one must constantly check that there is no food contamination.
Clostridium perfringens is related to meat products, while Bacillus cereus is found in products such as vegetables and spices.
How can Swift Micro Laboratories help companies ensure their products are safe?
Our two branches in South Africa provide a comprehensive product-safety service to the food and beverage, cosmetic, hospitality and related industries throughout Africa. We render a variety of services that include microbiological product testing; design, implementation and auditing of quality-management systems; staff training (from floor worker to management level) as well as on-site technical consultancy services.
While we currently have clients in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Mauritius, our services are available to companies across the continent.
What challenges are related to improving food safety in Africa?
Many manufacturers in Africa don’t really know if their products are safe. Companies (especially smaller ones) have no idea which food-safety procedures need to be in place because they have not received training in that area and don’t know what a proactive approach towards hygiene and food safety might be.
Some struggle to find products to clean and sanitise properly and this increases the risk of food contamination. Add to this the lack of proper protective gear, inconsistent water quality for factory cleaning and sanitising and no guarantee of clean equipment, contact surfaces or hands and you have a number of areas of potential hazard.
Many African countries do not have a culture of customer complaints, so if there is an outbreak of food poisoning, people would not be made aware of that and so the source would be difficult to trace. There are certainly such outbreaks in Africa but, unlike the rest of the world, one seldom hears about them.
Swift Micro Laboratories advises companies on how best to implement food safety procedures, measured against good hygiene practices.
For more information, please contact Anza Bester at:
Email: [email protected]