Food safety

A market may not process food, but it can surely be classified as a ‘food distribution facility’, the food here being ‘fresh produce’.

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Therefore, although the products stacked on a market floor are – mostly – in containers, and mostly on pallets, which provide some measure of protection from dirty floors, we need to be thinking more seriously about food safety. In fact, given the general state of most market floors and surrounding areas, I’d suggest food safety measures are completely inadequate. In fairness to markets, it’s not possible to make direct comparisons with shiny, stainless steel food processing plants, but this doesn’t relieve markets of the responsibility to implement food safety measures.

Then we get the farmers. Many already comply with food safety protocols like GlobalGAP. Although they’re in the minority, many ‘GlobalGAP farmers’ take issue with the state of hygiene and general disrepair found on some markets. They argue – quite rightly – that if they have to invest huge sums in food safety protocols to export their fruit or vegetables, why should they then send produce to local markets where ‘food safety’ is all but non-existent?

And ready to assist these farmers are the major retail groups, who comply with these standards. The result – again quite understandably – is another farmer moving away from supplying markets.

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It would be a daunting task to upgrade South Africa’s markets. But it must surely be done sooner rather than later, and it will require formidable investment and a widespread campaign among all role players to achieve and maintain the desired levels of food safety.

Do municipalities, the owners of many of the markets, have the political will and deep enough pockets to take this on? The evidence to date suggests they have neither. The bigger markets can probably do something – Joburg and Tshwane come to mind for their efforts – but the smaller guys are going to have a real struggle.

Contact Mike Cordes at [email protected]. Please state ‘Market floor’ in the subject line of your email.