Crackdown on spaza shops

Check the expiry date.

This is the cautionary message from health officials after an online furore highlighted fake and spoilt food being sold at some spaza shops, as Msunduzi revealed that it has swooped on local outlets, effecting 310 condemnations and approximately 242 prosecutions against food premises in the 2017/2018 financial year.

Numerous videos that are doing the rounds on social media, supposedly exposing fake and spoilt produce sold by spaza shops, have sent consumers into a panic.

Simple food items like bread and soft drinks have been put through informal “tests” which are said to prove their illegitimacy.

The uproar has prompted the Health Ministry to instruct provinces and municipalities to institute investigations following a high volume of complaints.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the Health Ministry’s national spokesperson Popo Maja said: “We take these allegations seriously as potential for danger to human health.

“While the authenticity of these videos cannot be verified, some cases are currently being investigated by the environmental health practitioners based in municipalities.

“We have the responsibility to determine if there is truth to these allegations, and where necessary take urgent action against perpetrators,” read the statement.

Meanwhile, some culprits have been fingered in Pietermaritzburg.

According to Msunduzi’s Environmental Health Unit, this problem is not unique to spaza shops, but occurs at formal businesses as well.

Responding to questions sent by The Witness on Tuesday, the Msunduzi environmental health unit said the trend had been spotted in certain food premises within the municipality.

Msunduzi environmental health unit’s Vishal Singh urged consumers to take note of date stamps on foodstuffs, especially when they are sold at extremely low prices.

“A bigger challenge posed to health authorities is the sale of foodstuffs that have exceeded their sell by, use by and expiry dates (expired shelf life). These are sold at reduced prices and consumers are generally not inclined to look at these dates when making purchases.

“This problem is not unique to spaza shops, but formal businesses as well, and appears to be a trend in certain food premises within Msunduzi Municipality.”

Singh said all food premises found non-compliant with the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics, and Disinfectants Act are issued with a compliance notice.

“Failure to comply would then result in the environmental health unit instituting legal proceedings and an admission of guilt fine ranges from R500 to R2 500 per count. In addition, any unsound foodstuffs are seized and destroyed at the landfill site.”

A shop owner in the CBD, Girma Helemo, said although the allegations had not affected his business, they were concerning.

“I know about these allegations but I’m not one of the culprits. When certain products in my shop have expired I throw them away immediately. My customers can attest to this.”

Helemo said while his intention was to make money to feed his family, he would not put other people’s lives at risk.

“I’m a Christian and poisoning people is against my beliefs. I buy new stock every four to five days. I purchase my stock from reputable retailers in the city so it is not counterfeit.”

Shop owner George Pastor said he had also seen the videos on Facebook.

“I run a good business here and wouldn’t want to ruin it by selling spoilt food items.”

MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs Sihle Zikalala said the net will be closing on dishonest traders who offer unsuspecting customers sub-standard products.

Zikalala and his team have in recent times crisscrossed the province conducting inspections at various business sites where they discovered shops that were selling expired food products.

“In the past few days, we found shops that sell perishable food that expired as far back as 2015. These include infant food products,” said Zikalala.

Zikalala said his department had decided to change the way it enforced compliance and from now onwards, they would not hesitate to take stern action against businesses that cause suffering to people by flouting their consumer rights.

Some of the dodgy food

According to the Health Ministry, the following are examples of some foodstuffs that have surfaced on social media and have been described as fake; some have harmful food colourants and some had expired:

Fake eggs being manufactured; fake eggs being cooked; fake plastic rice and fish; fake beef; fake mutton; coke 1,25L with some moving things inside; Fanta grape 1,25L label; Stoney ginger beer no size indicated; Fanta orange 1,25L; Twist granadilla 2L; tonic water 1L; Valpre spring water; Albany brown bread and Blue Band margarine; syrup being sold as honey and baked beans in a fish tin.