FOOD fraud is putting the lives of thousands of South Africans at risk daily as a result of the burgeoning trade in fake food and alcohol.

Olive oil, milk products with melamine, illegal food colourants, expired food with manipulated labelling and illegal alcohol are the biggest players in the South African fraud food industry.

The National Department of Health’s Food Control Directorate says there is a misconception among consumers that dates on products express food safety risks.

“In the main, dates are representative of the quality attributes of a foodstuff and a foodstuff can be unsafe depending on other factors that are independent of the date marking.

“Time and temperature abuse is usually what causes or poses a risk to food becoming unsafe and hence consumers must always follow or be aware of such issues.”

The department said it was difficult to quantify as even internationally the extent of the problem is not known or quantified. As the dodgy food industry grows, poor people in the country are increasingly bearing the brunt as the products come cheaper than original products.

This industry is seemingly thriving due to weak systems. Experts say the lack of policing and enforcement is contributing to massive food fraud, which thrives due to weakness of systems.

Dr Harris Steinman director of the Food & Allergy Consulting & Testing Services said food fraud was massive and had many different angles to it. “Food fraud can be at many levels, there could be a winemaker somewhere who is diluting his wine, there could be someone selling you olive oil, which is mixed with something else.

“We see people take products like chicken that has expired and just wash it and repackage it, putting on new expiry dates,” he said. Asked if authorities were doing enough to clamp down on food fraud, Steinman highlighted some weaknesses in the system.

“There are two problems where authorities are failing us. One is reinforcing and the other is policing. There are some cases where the government policies are not good enough.

“The way the directors of food control in the department of health work is different to the way the director of agriculture food and nutrition works. They police and reinforce differently,” he said.

Two foreign spaza shop employees in Katlehong who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation admitted to food fraud. Muhamed, a Bangladeshi national, said:

“I have worked for three shop owners in my 11 years in South Africa and have sold anything from expired things to fake Albany bread and fake bottled water,” he said.

Another one said it was difficult to trace products as he is not allowed to ask questions on delivery. “My job is to receive the stuff and to sell. If you ask a lot of questions they will tell you to go.

Some of my customers ask me sometimes because they can tell some items are fake, others just buy without asking,” he said.

A community member said they were aware but bought the products because they were cheap and because the store is closer to them.

Interpol said alcohol topped the list of seized products, followed by meat and seafood.

The South African Liquor Brand Owners Association said it was concerned about counterfeit liquor saying it competes illegally in the market and as such does not comply with the law so taxes are not paid.

“More important than the loss of revenue is the loss of life and this is why we are working with the authorities to eradicate illicit alcohol,” CEO Kurt Moore said.

Article posted on The New Age on 20 July 2017