The South African government should consider establishing a national food safety authority in order to cope with serious health threats like the listeriosis outbreak which has claimed about 200 lives.
This is the view of Professor Lise Korsten from the department of microbiology and plant pathology at the University of Pretoria.
Professor Korsten noted that the idea of establishing a national food safety authority has been around for more than 10 years but has not gained traction.
“The fact that there is no central authority or coordinated framework is problematic as it means there is no coordinated central point or one stop shop that deals with all import, export and local food control to protect consumers,” said Korsten.
“A central authority would shorten the time frame between the initial outbreak, identifying the source and product recall. It could also control imports and prevent illegal dumping and movements of counterfeit goods more effectively.
“It would mean that technical experts in food science, food microbiology, plant pathology and animal science etc. could be used more effectively to benefit a national food safety framework.”
She added that at the moment most commercial South African companies involved in food production and processing have to go through expensive certification. This is a self-regulatory system that relies on good auditors and accredited certification bodies. The challenge is that the country has a serious shortage of competent auditors/inspectors and local certification bodies.
Sje said another problem is that when there are threats of a foodborne disease, the government, industry and academia work in silos and don’t share knowledge or technologies that could benefit the whole country.
“In addition to a centralised food safety authority, there have also been suggestions that the agricultural and food legislative framework should be revised and the fragmented and outdated regulations be amended or new legislation promulgated,” said Korsten.
“Lastly, certification bodies responsible for certifying food safety management systems and test laboratories must reassess their role in supporting an effective food safety system.”
The idea of establishing a national food safety authority has been echoed by national health minister Aaron Motsoaledi who said the current decentralised system where inspectors are located at local government level was failing.