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Big step up for food safety in SA: launch of Centre For Food Safety

Tiger Brands in partnership with Stellenbosch University has launched the first Centre for Food Safety in the country.

It is just over a year since the first news of the Listeriosis outbreak broke in South Africa, the world’s worst, but now something very positive has come about as a consequence: the launch of the Centre for Food Safety at the University of Stellenbosch in response to this historical tragedy.

The launch event on November 6, 2018, paid tribute to those who lost their lives in outbreak of Listeriosis and birthed a new era of food safety research in South Africa.

In his opening address, Prof Wim de Villiers, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Stellenbosch, spoke to the ongoing global public health concerns of safe and sufficient food supply.

The centre will be characterised by innovation through collaboration as an industry–academic partnership to improve food safety in the country.

In his address, the chairman of Tiger Brands, Dr Khotso Mokele, personally pledged the ongoing commitment of the group as its founding member.

Tiger Brands has committed R10-million to the project and other food manufacturers and retailers have already expressed their interest in joining the collaboration.

As part of the Department of Food Science at the university, industry memberships will be the primary source of funding for the centre that will be managed solely by the university.

The acting director of the new Centre for Food Safety, Professor Pieter Gouws, outlined the objectives of the project:

The first and foremost objective is Scientific research and training:

  • In addition to consolidating current thinking, cutting-edge research will be carried out by collaborative and multi-disciplinary teams that include other South African and international universities.
  • This research will be published in esteemed peer-reviewed journals but learnings will also be made available to industry through workshops and technical reports.

The second pillar of the centre is consumer engagement and awareness:

The goal is to provide information to allow consumers to make informed decisions about their health. This information will be in the form of short courses, media and other communication channels. The outbreak highlighted the need to credible consumer information.

The third objective of the centre: to influence policy makers by providing a science-based approach for consideration in setting legal requirements, and the proactive participation on the relevant committees.

During a panel discussion, the mechanisms, proposed initiatives and questions from the audience were addressed in more detail.

The audience included Ebrahim Mohammed, the national consumer commissioner, members from South African meat processors association, environmental health practitioners from around the country and retailers.

The importance of protecting the confidentiality rights of industry in the process of research was raised, but Tiger Brands’ Mokele reiterated that its involvement is strictly for the purpose of public good, not competitive advantage and that it will support the dissemination of all information to assist the food industry in South Africa in the quest to ensure all food is safe.

“It is unfortunate that we cannot undo the tragedy but if this centre can provide a tangible step forward in developing a positive culture of food safety in South Africa, I encourage you to support these efforts. We wish them well,” says Linda Jackson of FoodFocus.

The company felt that a company of its size to find itself in a situation where listeria was found on our site; clearly, something needed to be done.

We at Tiger Brands complied with all the food standards and processes but we found ourselves in that situation. Clearly, something needed to be done differently.

Mary-Jane Morifi, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, Tiger Brands

Listen to an interview with Mary-Jane Morifi on Radio 702 here:

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