Minister calls for evidence of fake food

Monday, September 3, 2018

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has called on members of the public to assist the department in providing evidence of fake, expired and counterfeit foodstuffs.

“To date, the Ministry of Health has not received evidence of fake foodstuff made of material such as plastic. We appeal to the public, including the media, to bring to authorities, tangible evidence of food-stuff made of non-biological and potentially harmful substances and chemicals; including bringing to our attention the sales of expired food.

“The public is requested to call the NDoH hotline 011-386-2003/6 during office hours, and the National Consumer Commission (NCC) hotline 012-428-7000,” the Minister said on Monday.

The Minister’s call comes amid the flurry of videos circulating on social media alleging that fake and expired foodstuffs are being sold to the public.

Upon receiving numerous complaints, the health department said it decided to act swiftly and determine if there is any truth to the allegations.

On 8 August 2018, the Health department wrote letters to 52 district municipalities and metros asking them to conduct inspection blitzes in all food premises.

“As of today, 12 districts and metropolitan areas out of 52 have handed in reports. A total of 102 joint operations with the South African Police Service (SAPS) were undertaken by environmental health practitioners. 454 premises were reached. The operation revealed that 281 premises were operating without valid health certificates. 100 premises were issued with notices to stop operations. 292 premises were found to be non-compliant.”

To date, 2 151 foodstuff items were seized and 1 296 foodstuff items were detained for further investigation. Motsoaledi said work in this regard is still ongoing.

On 31 August, the NCC, together with the City of Tshwane, the Companies and Intellectual Properties Commission, National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications, SAPS and representatives of the trade mark owners carried out inspections.

“Six premises were closed down. Five of them for non-compliance with their zoning certificates and one for trading in counterfeit goods. We have removed and destroyed expired foodstuff in premises that have been inspected,” said Motsoaledi.

Despite the social media frenzy, Motsoaledi said his department is yet to get a report of people falling ill following consumption of these “fake” foods.

“We have not received any reports or notifications of human illness associated with such ‘fake’ food products doing rounds on social media,” he said.

Motsoaledi said in the course of investigations, the department noted confusion amongst the public between counterfeit food, fake food, expired food, best-before date and sell-by date.

“Best-before date: This is for long shelf life dry or canned products. It is used for stock rotation and is not an indicator of safety.

“Sell-by date: This has been used for perishable food which is usually stored in a refrigerator. The meaning and implications of this date has caused so much confusion globally that in July this year the Codex Alimentarius Commission has discontinued the use of this date.

“Use-by / Expiry date: this is the ‘expiry date’ as we know it. It means that food is no longer palatable after this date. For perishable food, this means it can no longer be consumed,” explained the Minister.

Motsoaledi clarified that counterfeit goods, are goods manufactured and sold under another company's brand name.

“The term ‘fake food’ has been used by social media to refer to food that does not contain food substances – for example ‘plastic food’ or ‘bread that does not dissolve in water’.

“The food industry has been requested to confirm the authenticity of potential counterfeit foodstuffs which include verifying the brands of their products such as soft drinks, tinned foodstuffs, etc. currently displayed on social media platforms,” said Motsoaledi.

The department has roped in other government regulatory authorities from the departments of Agriculture and Trade and Industry, including the National Consumer Commission, to confirm allegations of compromised quality standards.

“The public is encouraged to notify environmental health practitioners and the South African Police Services regarding any suspicious foodstuffs and provide evidence where possible,” said the Minister. -