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Food safety and traceability


Food is a dynamic substance which changes with time and through exposure to different temperatures, storage conditions and processing methods.

  • Food safety is a scientific discipline describing the production, harvesting, handling, processing, preparation and storage of food in ways that prevent foodborne illness. This includes a number of procedures and practices that should be followed to avoid potentially severe health hazards. Food can transmit disease to humans as well as serve as a growth medium for bacteria that can cause food poisoning.
  • Traceability gives the ability to identify the past or current location of a food item, as well as to know the item’s history. To achieve traceability, a producer and other supply chain participants must be able to link the physical flow of materials and products with information about locations, parties, processes and conditions. Traceability of food products is driven by food safety requirements and consumer concerns about where the food they eat comes from and how it was produced.

Some notes on traceability

Traceability helps to identify the source of products and their ingredients, to identify the processes conducted, to assure compliance with food safety standards, and to affirm the authenticity of a product and claims made about it. When something goes wrong, the information recorded for traceability purposes can help to locate and prevent further distribution of products that may be affected, and if necessary support withdrawals.

Implementing traceability requires supply chain participants to link the physical flow of materials and products with information about locations, parties and processes. This requires each party to keep “vital records”. “Vital records” are the minimum records required to achieve a particular outcome.

The following actions are required in order to achieve traceability:

  • Identify and record the food and its components
  • Identify and record relevant locations and parties
  • Identify and record treatments and processes
  • Record movements of products, one-step-back and one-step-forwards, in other words – what exactly was received from whom, and what exactly was sent to whom
  • Record changes of constitution of products, such as breaking or building a pallet
  • Record transformations of products, for example on-site processing
  • Link the inputs to the outputs, taking account of constitutional changes and transformations
  • When needed, recreate what happened from records,
  • View across the whole supply chain (which is the greatest challenge)

Typical uses for traceability:

  • provides a foundation for vital data records
  • determines the origin of a product
  • gives evidence of compliance to requirements of regulations, agreements and standards
  • authenticates claims made about a product, such as “Organic” and “Fairtrade”
  • satisfies consumer demands for information on production conditions
  • reports on, locates and manages products that might have a problem.

Traceability vital records enable us to recreate the production, processing and distribution of a food or feed product, and associate a specific product with others that shared its experiences or which it met in its journey on and from farm to fork. Traceability systems enable this to happen quickly and efficiently.

The details to be recorded would depend on the reason for having traceability – food safety data requirements and records would differ from those for organic products, fair trade and carbon footprint. However, all could apply to the same product across its production and supply chains.

A “traceability system” is defined as the totality of data and operations that is capable of maintaining desired information about a product and its components through all or part of its production and utilisation chain (ISO22005:2007; SANS22005:2009).

Source: Gwynne Foster of Interlinks Traceability Services

International business environment

If we wish to be internationally competitive, exporters of food and beverages must be aware of and implement the numerous protocols, systems and standards which include:


  • Find the standard documents on
  • The GLOBALG.A.P. standard is primarily designed to reassure consumers about how food is produced on the farm by minimising detrimental environmental impacts of farming operations, reducing the use of chemical inputs and ensuring a responsible approach to worker health and safety as well as animal welfare.

Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP)

  • Find guidelines on
  • HACCP is a food safety management system that is based on proactivity and prevention, and is therefore seen as the management of product safety to prevent food poisoning incidents. It can be used to ensure quality, and goes a long way to ensuring food safety.
  • There are control points – and critical control points (CCP). The CCP is any point at which a hazard can be prevented, reduced or eliminated in a food process.

The Codex Alimentarius

  • Find these documents on
  • This is a collection of international set of standards, guidelines and codes of practice. Each country has the right to set stricter standards and/or regulations than Codex guidelines, under the WTO SPS agreement, provided that that country can scientifically prove why their regulations are stricter (otherwise these can be seen as an artificial barrier to trade).
  • These food standards aim to protect consumer’s health and ensure fair practices in the food trade. The Codex Alimentarius includes standards for all the principle foods, whether processed, semi-processed or raw, for distribution to the consumer.

The Food Safety System Certification (FSSC)

The Food Safety System Certification (FSSC) is a voluntary certification based on ISO standards and is recognized by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI). The certificate affirms that the inspected production facilities of global food companies meet the food safety requirements of its customers. See

GS1 Standards

  • Find out more at
  • The GSI Standards identify locations, trade items and logistics units. The GS1 South Africa User Manual, the Global User Manual and the GS1 General Specifications can be ordered from GS1 South Africa.

ISO 22000

ISO 22000 is a Food Safety Management System that can be applied to any organisation in the food chain, farm to fork. Becoming certified to ISO 22000 allows a company to show their customers that they have a food safety management system in place. ISO 22 000 was modified in July 2018 to reflect new food safety challenges. Find more at

Safe Quality Foods (SQF)

This is a Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI)-benchmarked certification programme recognised worldwide.  The Safe Quality Foods Institute (SQFI) (USA) manages the SQF standard. See

Find the different GFSI documents at

Some international websites

The World Health Organization’s five keys to food safety :


  • Keep clean. Wash your hands before handling food and often during food preparation.
  • Separate raw and cooked food. If you are handling or storing raw food, do not touch already cooked food unless you have already washed your hands and food preparation utensils.
  • Cook food thoroughly. Food that does not usually need cooking before eating should be washed thoroughly with clean running water.
  • Keep food at safe temperatures.
  • Use safe water for domestic use at all times or boil before use.

Local business environment

Read about Food Business Operators under the “National strategy and Government contacts” heading.



In order to meet the requirements of the EU regulations, South Africa promulgated “Standards Regarding Food Hygiene and Food Safety of Regulated Agricultural Food Products of Plant Origin for Export”. These are collectively referred to as SA-GAP. SA-GAP is often used as the basic standard for inspections of produce destined for the local market.

SA-GAP standards require that food products are handled under hygienic conditions through all stages of the supply chain, good record keeping, and that Food Business Operators (FBOs) are able to withdraw or recall products that pose a risk to human health from anywhere in the trade chain.

Further reference:

  • The reader can pick up the links and standards from either the “Old” DALRRD website, (find the “Food Safety & Quality Assurance” pages) or the Perishable Products Export Control Board (PPECB) one, The reader will find it valuable to contrast this with the G.A.P. programmes at




Listeriosis is a disease caused by a bacterium, not a virus. You get it when you ingest food contaminated with this bacterium. Listeriosis is widely found in nature – in soil, water, vegetation or faeces of some animals. From these sources, it can contaminate food from four different areas.

  1. The food production site – that is the farms and the abattoirs
  2. The food processing factories
  3. The food packaging sites
  4. The food preparation at restaurant hotels or in individual homes.


The disease occurs annually in South Africa, with doctors typically seeing 60 to 80 patients per annum. This has been the case for the past 40 years. (The 2017/18 outbreak, traced to a processed food facility and which led to over a thousand cases, was a tragic exception). The disease is treatable with an antibiotic called ampicillin which is widely available in health facilities, both public and private.


Source: A speech by then Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi as reported in SANews, 8 March 2018 (adapted).






Genetically modified (GM) products

South African regulations state foodstuffs containing more than 5% of GM organisms should be labelled “contains genetically modified organisms”, whether or not they originate in the country. GM opponents say that the law has been “flouted” since it was passed in 2011 (tests carried out by the African Centre for Biosafety found GM ingredients in maize meal and baby cereal without the called-for labels on the products). Business disputes the interpretation of the regulations, and so the country has a stalemate at present.


Further reference:


Consumer Protection Act (CPA)

The attention given to exports had not always extended to produce destined for the local market. The Consumer Protection Act (CPA) changed this.

The CPA flipped accountability for quality and safety of produce from the “buyer-beware” principle to the legal assumption that the supplier is responsible until and unless there is evidence to show that is not the case. This had the unintended consequence that mature local retailers, processors and supply chain parties now require suppliers to provide evidence, through certification, that they comply with good practice standards. This has caused a backwash up the supply chain to producers; most affected are the emerging sector.

A problems of this legislation is that emerging farmers, struggling with the administrative and bookkeeping demands of food safety, could be shut out of the supply chain.

Source: Gwynne Foster of Interlinks Traceability Services

National strategy and government contact

Find the legislation option at

The South African government has created a regulatory framework and related instruments for food safety and traceability. The Department of Health (DoH) and Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) have responsibilities relating to safety of food locally and with regard to meeting requirements of international markets.

DALRRD Inspection Services ensures compliance with phytosanitary agreements. Government assignees assure compliance of products in different sectors, e.g. the Perishable Products Export Control Board (PPECB) is responsible for assuring that exports of fresh and processed products of plant origin meet the requirements of the South African Agricultural Products Standards Act [Act 119 of 1990]. Similarly, the South African Bureau of Standards assures that fish products comply with regulations, and the Wine & Spirits Board assures compliance of wine and spirits processes and products.

The Meat Safety Act, 2000 (Act 40 of 2000) provides for measures to promote meat safety and the safety of animal products; establishes and maintains essential national standards in respect of abattoirs; regulates the import and export of meat; and establishes meat safety schemes.

The national FS & MRL (Food Safety and Maximum Residue Levels) is chaired by the DALRRD Directorate: Food Safety and Quality Assurance. The Forum publishes hazard profiles, and food safety checklists and compliance criteria for different types of food business operators. Separate operating procedures and guidelines may be provided, e.g. for residue sampling and traceability. PPECB inspectors use the checklists during food safety export compliance audits. A Food Safety Forum Technical Working Group updates the documents from time to time. Further documents are under review or in the process of being prepared. The documents are available under the food safety section on the DALRRD website: This is SA GAP.

Companies handling products of plant origin that are destined for export markets are required to register with DALRRD as Food Business Operators. Producers who supply local fresh produce markets will in future also register as Food Business Operators (FBO). An FBO must adhere to good handling practices and traceability, keep adequate records and be able to withdraw implicated products from the market should there be a serious problem. An approach to responding to product alerts, withdrawals and recalls is provided in the Traceability Standard Operating Guideline published on the website of the DALRRD, The FBO code database is available under the “Food Safety and Quality Assurance” option on the same website.

Larger South African retailers are adopting international trade standards or/and defining their own standards. This has a domino effect back up the fresh produce chain, and producers and processors who are unable to provide evidence of adhering to good practices may be locked out of storage and processing facilities. The ability to show evidence of due diligence and compliance with a standard would depend on the records available about a specific product or process at each point in the chain.

Source: Gwynne Foster of Interlinks Traceability Services

In addition to the above, other relevant legislation includes:


Role players

There are Food Control Committees in every province consisting of provincial Departments of Agriculture, Health, Municipal Health Services and the South African Police Service Stock Theft Unit. Those Committees conducted joint inspections of food premises, combatted illegal slaughtering and undertook road blocks to search food delivery vehicles for compliance.

Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD)

Find information on directorates at

  • The Directorate: Food Safety and Quality Assurance
  • Directorate: Plant Health
  • Directorate: Inspection Services
  • Directorate: Animal Health
  • Directorate: Veterinary Public Health
  • Directorate: Food Import and Export Standards
  • Directorate Marketing –  The “Market Requirements and Guidelines” option includes information on GLOBAL G.A.P.

Perishable Products Export Control Board (PPECB)

PPECB was mandated under the Agricultural Products Standards Act (Act 119 of 1990) to ensure compliance with the food safety standard by conducting food safety audits on all registered FBO’s (Food Business Operators). Assessors are stationed across the country and delivers inspection services on 200 product types at more that 1500 locations. PPECB also audits the use of legislated pesticides on a regular basis, according to an MRL Standard Operating Procedure. This forms part of the risk based approach of the total PPECB mandated function.

Department of Health (DoH)

  • Programme: Food Control
  • National Codex Office  The Food Legislation Advisory Group (FLAG) consists of government departments, industry, academia, research institutions and consumer organisations to provide scientific advice on the development of legislation in food safety.

Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (the dtic) The dtic is the custodian of the Consumer Protection Act, 2008 (No 68 of 2008)

South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) Food and Beverages

Food-related standards include: (i) SANS 241-2, SANS241-1: 1 Drinking water Part 1: Microbiological, physical, aesthetic and chemical determinants and SANS 241-2: Drinking water Part 2: Application of SANS 241-1. (ii) SANS 10049 – Food safety management — Requirements for prerequisite programmes (PRPs). (iii) SANS 10330 – Requirements for a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system (Intermediate Level). (iv) SANS 289 – Labelling requirements for pre-packed products.

National Regulator for Compulsory Specification (NRCS) Food and Associated Industries



Role players


Note: Click to expand the headings below.  To get a free listing on our website like the ones below, visit here for more information or place your order hereDisclaimer: The role player listings are not vetted by this website.

Mérieux NutriSciences – Food safety and traceability products.
Testo South Africa – Food safety and traceability products
Stargate Scientific – Food safety and traceability products
Kemklean Hygiene Systems – Food safety and traceability products
Interlinks Traceability Services Email: g.foster [at] “We aim to work with farmers, supply chain agribusinesses and service providers to meet increasingly demanding information regulation requirements, standards and customers, thereby strengthening their ability to access profitable markets”.
Perishable Products Export Control Board (PPECB) – The PPECB provides training and consultation programmes to facilitate growers and other operators in the supply chain to comply with food safety standards.

Note: Click to expand the headings below.  To get a free listing on our website like the ones below, visit here for more information or place your order hereDisclaimer: The role player listings are not vetted by this website.

Mérieux NutriSciences – Food safety and traceability products.
Testo South Africa – Food safety and traceability products
Stargate Scientific – Food safety and traceability products
Perishable Products Export Control Board (PPECB) – PPECB “provides internationally preferred food, safety, quality and assurance services to promote and instil confidence in South African products”. Contact details of all their regional branches are available on their website.
PROKON (Produk Kontrole) – Prokon is an independent inspection body which provides product inspections on all the main fresh produce markets in South Africa.
Perishable Products Export Control Board (PPECB) – PPECB “provides internationally preferred food, safety, quality and assurance services to promote and instil confidence in South African products”. Contact details of all their regional branches are available on their website.
PROKON (Produk Kontrole) – Prokon is an independent inspection body which provides product inspections on all the main fresh produce markets in South Africa.

Further reference:


See the “Laboratories and agriculture” page.

Training and research

Websites and publications

Visit the websites listed earlier in this page.


Some articles

Food safety is frequently covered in the articles on the Food Stuff South Africa website,

  • GAP – Good Agricultural Practices are practices on farms which define the essential elements for the development of best practice for production, incorporating integrated crop management, integrated pest management and integrated agricultural hygiene.
  • GHP – Good Hygiene Practices include all practices regarding the conditions and measures necessary to ensure the safety and suitability of food at all stages of the food chain, including primary production, facility design, operational control, maintenance, personal hygiene, transport, consumer complaints, product information and training (Codex).
  • GLP – Good Laboratory Practices refers to a quality system concerned with the organisational process and the conditions under which non-clinical health and environmental safety studies are planned, performed, monitored, recorded, archived and reported (OECD).
  • GMP – Good Manufacturing Practices are that combination of manufacturing and quality control procedures aimed at ensuring that food products are consistency manufactured to their specifications (IFST). Limited to such a maximum level that the product concerned will not be deleteriously affected or its compliance with legal requirements disturbed (Department of Health).
Source: (website, now defunct, of the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa’s Food Safety Initiative)

Our thanks to Gwynne Foster of Interlinks Traceability Services for valuable feedback

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