Responsible disposal of waste products in the SA food industry
Last year’s listeriosis outbreak piqued sharper attention on all aspects of food safety – included the responsible disposal of food waste products and the regulations that govern this process from start to finish.
Following the 2018 listeriosis outbreak that claimed the lives of more than 200 people, food safety in the production value chain has understandably come under the spotlight. The danger to producers, and consumers, is that the threat of contamination remains ever-present unless proper procedures are followed.
It should not come as a surprise that government has started cracking down on failures in hygiene in the food supply chain. The most recent measure was the introduction of the Compulsory Specification for Processed Meat Products, which came into effect in October 2019.
Central to these guidelines is the implementation of processes that comply with HACCP system and guidelines.
The guidelines suggest that suitable provision be made for food waste to be removed and stored away from food handling, storage and other working areas. All food waste, by-products and dangerous substances must be placed in containers that are clearly identifiable, suitably constructed and made of impervious material.
Food manufacturers should also provide adequate drainage and waste disposal systems to avoid the risk of contaminating food or the potable water supply.
“A critical consideration in this process is the correct disposal of food waste,” says Johan van den Berg, MD of major waste management company, Averda South Africa.
“Considering that an estimated 10 million tonnes of food waste is generated by South Africa’s food manufacturing industry every year, it’s easy to grasp the magnitude of the possible threat to the health of communities.”
While the deadly listeriosis outbreak was not due to neglect in the waste process, it did pose a considerable and protracted threat if food from the contaminated factories was not handled correctly.
Handling tons of discarded polony
Averda was instrumental in transporting, treating and disposing of thousands of tonnes of food from the affected manufacturing facilities. Due to the extreme danger posed by the contaminated food – either real or suspected – this was considered hazardous to the public.
Measures to prevent further contamination after disposal included loading and transporting materials, escorted by a security detail, to Averda’s Vlakfontein Class A Landfill site near Vereeniging.
Where necessary, food material amounting to some 10 tonnes per day was first incinerated in Klerksdorp before being taken to the Vlakfontein facility.
There, the materials were placed in a specially designed trench that was covered with a high salt-content brine and lime mixture. This was then covered to prevent further contamination or disturbance by wildlife that may have tried to feed off the discarded materials.
“Although we were contracted to transport, treat and dispose of these materials, food manufacturers remain solely responsible for ensuring that all food waste, not only contaminated waste, is handled correctly,” Van den Berg says.
“This ‘cradle to the grave’ principle is central to the provisions of the Waste Management Act. This means that the food manufacturing industry has a very strong duty of care to ensure they do not contaminate the environment. Which is something that has been driven home in the aftermath of the listeriosis epidemic.”
The measures they need to take and the expected standards they need to meet are outlined by the globally accepted HACCP standards. This covers everything from the hygiene of facilities to temperature, air quality control and lighting conditions, as well as storage and waste disposal.
Van den Berg says food manufacturers can introduce new technologies and processes to mitigate risk.
“This includes the use of more secure storage of waste and a greater emphasis on their duty of care. No longer do they simply acknowledge that they need to dispose of these materials, but they insist on knowing where and how that has been taken care of.
“Food manufacturers may not physically handle the entire process, but they do need the assurance that they can confidently report that it has been done to the highest standards,” he concludes.
Source: Averda South Africa