Your Questions Answered...

Many of our delegates submitted additional questions to our speakers after the 2022 Summit - here is the feedback from our speakers.

Q: What challenges do you find in terms of balancing sustainability, quality, safety and cost?

Defining and implementing changes to existing products driven by sustainability targets brings challenges around important aspects of designing safe products, including new or alternative ingredients, modification to formulations, new or alternative packaging materials, and changes to supply chain & distribution conditions, amongst others. Above all, safety is a non-negotiable, and we use safety-by-design as our ‘north star’ principle, ensuring that all risks associated with these changes are identified and assessed, and consequently appropriate risk management options are defined and implemented during the make and distribution phase. Quality and cost are of course important elements of that equation. With the unprecedented situation we are experiencing regarding inflation and commodity cost, it is important to have well-governed and agile alternative supplier and alternative material programmes in place to enable rapid switches in ingredients and materials without jeopardising safety, quality and cost.
Dr. Alejandro Amezquita | Science & Technology Director, Unilever

Q: What are the tools that Coca-Cola uses to verify the effectiveness of the Food Safety Culture being implemented?

We use 3rd party and internal culture self-assessments as a measure of progress and employee engagement.  In addition we have begun to implement metrics to measure behaviors that would indicate a good culture including: sharing of lessons learned and reduction of repeat incidents/non conformances.
Daysen Pather | Senior Director for Quality, Safety and Environment (QSE) for Coca-Cola Africa

Q: Moving into the concept of reusing packaging as much as possible and, having industries that have a refill location for that particular product. What do we say about the safety of foods? Because in the industry we follow HACCP throughout till distribution. So how will we control that the food is safe even after refilling the packages? How will we calculate the shelf life from then?

I assume this question is centered around refilling bottles and or other containers in-store with product dispensed from a machine, it doesn’t reference bottles and containers that are collected and returned to the manufacturer who washes the bottle and then refills the product into it, an example would be Coca Cola’s returnable bottles.
So, in dealing with refilling into re-usable packaging in store, this is largely centered around household products and personal care, so cleaning liquids or shampoos are common internationally and starting to take on in South Africa as well, a few retailers in South Africa have offered products like grains and honey, etc. which can be filled in-store, in the food space we (WW) tread very carefully because of the potential contamination and other nasty’s that can be introduced when consumers use their own packaging, so food refilling into customers own packaging is not being considered at this time, however, we are at advanced stages with non-food products and refill in stores
 

Don Mac Farlane | Senior Packaging Technologist at Woolworths South Africa

Q: Considering Woolworth's emphasis on “being green”, how is packaging being improved at the moment? There are several products in multiple layers of plastic and, whole products like garlic and ginger are unnecessarily packaged in plastic nets. If Pick n Pay and Checkers can manage free-pick fruit and veg, sure Woolworths can too?

Packaging is an area of our business that we focused heavily on, we’ve eliminated upward of 350 tons of plastic packaging from our shelves in the last five years through migration to other formats, elimination, and reduction. We’ve increased our usage of green plastics, i.e. plastics that uses renewable materials as opposed to crude oil. We’ve also eliminated plastic products, like drinking straws, giveaway plastic cutlery, plastic-stemmed earbuds, and our plastic single-use shopping bags. We package as required, which speaks to the efficient running of our stores and ensures quality product on the shelf that is safe and does not increase food waste. There are areas in our business that requires further innovation in order to retail unpacked product, that will be addressed, our target is to have all our packaging recyclable by Dec 2022.

We find a high waste percentage in unpacked fresh produce, which results in not only the product being wasted but also the upfront resources used to grow and transport these products to our stores. Food waste is as important to us and poorly packaged or packaging-free products that result in high food waste is another focus area of our business. Multi-layer structures or multiple layers of packaging is being worked on, as we innovate together with our packaging suppliers to develop solutions that enable us to supply food of the same quality our shoppers come to expect without increasing food waste.

Don Mac Farlane | Senior Packaging Technologist at Woolworths South Africa

Q: Will packaging ever be plastic free, like international retailers strive to be by 2030? 

Packaging for the foreseeable future will not be plastic-free, this is largely due to the important role that plastic plays in preserving food & ultimately eliminating or reducing food waste.
Plastic is the most versatile packaging medium, over time it has responded to the organoleptic needs of food, new processing methods, and more food types being made available in the retail environment.
Whether it be breathable, controlled atmosphere, modified atmosphere, high oxygen barriers, or high moisture barriers, plastics have walked this journey with food and continues to do so.
 
Retailers striving for “plastic-free” packaging on their shelves do so by limiting product offerings, migrating to other packaging formats like glass, metal, or board,  and or using bioplastics, i.e. materials made from starch derived from food crops, like PLA from corn.
There are several challenges with these alternate “solutions”, the often-higher carbon footprint of alternate packaging formats, the limited protection that bioplastics provide, as well as the real threat to food security when using staple foods like potatoes, corn & maize, rice, cassava, etc. as the starch feedstock to make plastic-free biofilms.  Food security is a growing global concern, more and more people become food insecure, and using staple food crops that would otherwise feed the hungry raises serious questions about the growing trend to use staple foods to make “plastic-free” packaging. So too food waste, it is estimated that 33% of all food goes to waste, and inadequate packaging plays a role in this.  
The elephant in the room is global warming, the carbon footprint, and LCA’s need to be considered when making packaging material choices.
The answer doesn’t lie in plastic-free, rather it lies in responsible plastic usage, eliminating unnecessary overpacking, using post-consumer recycled plastic wherever possible, and proper management of plastic material. All plastics are made from gas, the default or primary supply of these gases originates from crude oil, so we have to use more renewable sources of gas to make plastic, like sugar cane, which also provides gas naturally that can and is being used to make more environmentally friendly plastics. There is no silver bullet to address rising planet temperatures, ocean pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions, rather it is a combination of many solutions which are available now, which need to be implemented now and not only in the future.

Don Mac Farlane | Senior Packaging Technologist at Woolworths South Africa

Q: Some legal questions:

Please note that this information does not constitute legal advice as the authors do not have all the facts. This is for guidance purposes only.

 

What are the current CBD regulations?

It is in terms of the Medicines and Related Substances Act a medicine (albeit a S0 if low potency) or S4 as prescription medicine in all other cases.

22 May 2020 in the R586 Government Notice

In terms of the Constitutional Court ruling, you can grow some cannabis for personal use only but no sale thereof is permitted.
 

Following the SCA ruling on SAHPRA’s complementary medicine framework, what would be the way forward in positioning food supplements in terms of which regulations apply to these categories of products? Which labelling regulations are applicable for these products?

At this time the existing CAMS regulations apply - Court suspended its ruling for 12 months.

 

Are there any laws relating to removing an Expiry date/ BB date and placing another later date if there is evidence that the product can still be eaten safely? 

No, R146 makes it a criminal offence to remove or alter any date sticker on a foodstuff, regardless of whether it is safe or not.

It is not illegal to sell a foodstuff past its Best Before date as long as it is safe.

 

Secondly any laws about placing stickers over original information?

Except for the date, you may over sticker labels.

 

What can South Africans do if they find the Kinder products that should have been recalled in the shops? As many are now marked down after Easter. Who can we report it to? Should we?

Very interesting point.  The first port of call would be the local EHP at the municipality and the National Consumer Commission.

 

Is there a regulation in South Africa that governs food fraud and defense?

All our laws are effectively this.  It's a criminal offense to sell foodstuff which is not the one that it says on the label.  More so if dangerous ingredients have been used.

Our fraud laws would also cover this as it is fraud to deceive someone into buying foodstuffs that are not what they are marked to be.

Finally, if a product is fake then the Counterfeit Goods Act comes into play too.


There are products on the market with CBD. How did they get this through?

They never applied to SAHPRA for approval and just sell them counting on the fact that there is poor enforcement.
 

Janusz Luterek | Attorney and Professional Engineer, and Partner at Hahn & Hahn Attorneys

Q: Is there a difference in the pesticide residue limit in South Africa?

Yes, pesticide residue limits or maximum residue limits (MRLs) in South Africa may differ, being higher or lower, from those set in other countries. MRLs in South Africa are based on the intended use pattern (specific target, dose rate as well as timing and frequency of application) of the specific pesticide. Nevertheless, the local limits are still set with consideration of the internationally accepted safety limits or Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) values that are scientifically determined for each pesticide. Many of our fruit crops rely on exports and are therefore subject to comply with the MRL of the target export destination. Retailers in export markets may also enforce secondary standards which require that detectable pesticide residues must be below their country MRLs and often the requirement is for certain pesticides to be at non-detectable (less than 0,01 ppm) levels. For this reason the actual level of pesticide residues in a variety of fruit crops may be below the MRLs set in South Africa. 

Rupert Anelich | Head of Regulatory & Technical Development – for Southern Africa at UPL

Q: Lollipop and earbud sticks are the worst but also plastic bottle tops too – will you be implementing the system passed in the UK, which connects the plastic bottle top to the bottle?

Yes, tethered closures are being pushed for in South Africa. We have challenged our bottle cap suppliers to invest in this technology. The PET plastic bottle is one of the most recycled plastic packaging formats in SA, yet bottle caps are in the top 10 items found on beaches and the oceans, so it makes sense to tether the closure to the bottle. Europe, excluding the UK, are leaders in this technology and many brands have introduced it on their bottles in the past 18 months. There is impending EU legislation as to the strength of the tether which many of the SA cap manufacturers are waiting for so when they do make them, they are EU compliant. Whilst no legislation under the new South African EPR regulation has been passed, we do feel it makes a strong case for the SA government to consider legislating it as well.          

Don Mac Farlane | Senior Packaging Technologist at Woolworths South Africa

Q: How does Woolworths look at reducing waste?

This I assume speaks to packaging waste, since it was sent to the packaging dept. at Woolworths, I will make this assumption. The primary way to reduce packaging waste sits with a number of initiatives/innovations. Don’t over-package, reducing packaging, or simply not using packaging wherever possible, without affecting product safety and quality are some of the ways to reduce packaging waste. Recycling and using post-consumer recycled material like plastic & paper & board to make new packaging also reduces waste. WW has a target to have all its product packaged in recyclable material by Dec 2022, a tall ask but it drives innovation and has forced packaging manufacturers to think out of the box and become innovative.               

Don Mac Farlane | Senior Packaging Technologist at Woolworths South Africa

Q: How often should we wash the Woolworths material bag? How many times can you wash it?

The Black Woolworth’s shopping bag can be washed as required, however the rigors of machine wash can limit its lifespan. Ultimately the bag is designed to be a multi-use bag and a solution for the environment, it is made with post-consumer recycled materials, care should be taken with the bag to ensure it has as long a lifespan as possible, our aim is not to sell another bag, rather we prefer you to bring any bag to our stores for shopping and not to simply buy a new one.

Don Mac Farlane | Senior Packaging Technologist at Woolworths South Africa

Q: Why don’t they consider sugar cane off cuts for packaging?

Sugar cane off cuts have long been used to make packaging, it is known as bagasse packaging. Bagasse packaging is the fibre that is left after all the sugar has been pressed out of it. It is commonly used to make punnets and trays that can be used to replace some plastic containers to package fresh produce. Like most fresh produce, it is transported through a strict cold chain, ensuring the product arrives safely and at optimum quality. Bagasse needs to be unaltered, no wet strength additives must be included, which prohibits it from being recycled in SA, wet strength and other additives do however play a part in ensuring the packaging is fit for purpose, without it coupled with a really good cold chain, bagasse packaging often falls short. By-products of sugar cane like ethylene gas are harvested to make standard greener plastic, not reliant on crude oil, this is a more renewable, lower carbon plastic, which is on the increase. It still has far to go, greener sugar cane plastics are less than 5% of global plastic usage at present.

Don Mac Farlane | Senior Packaging Technologist at Woolworths South Africa

Q: What is the largest challenge in terms of maintaining quality with packaging?

The biggest challenge is to ensure recyclable packaging doesn’t affect food quality, and safety and increases food waste. As more and more food offerings become processed, it places more demands on packaging to meet the organoleptic requirements of these foods. As the world gears up to feed 8 billion people, we find more and more processed foods being developed, packaging must meet these new requirements that highly processed foods require, plant-based foods, a growing trend, are also heavily processed and bring with them new considerations for packaging. With so many natural disasters occurring more frequently, relief food needs to reach people in areas where no electricity is available and foods need to be shelf-stable, packaging needs to deliver on this. As food develops either in its offering or processing, the packaging would simply in the past develop non-recyclable multilayer structures, now with the high emphasis placed on packaging recyclability, recyclable mono materials need to be developed to ensure quality and limit or eliminate food waste, whilst delivering on quality and safety.                  

Don Mac Farlane | Senior Packaging Technologist at Woolworths South Africa

Q: Water related questions:

You say that our water treatment plants are not designed to remove toxins from potable water. 
I refer here only to cyanotoxins. Our existing plant is simply not designed to remove any cyanotoxins or to process raw sewage into potable water. Technically this is possible, but none of our almost 850 bulk water treatment plants in SA has been designed to remove cyanotoxin.  

Do we know how to treat and remove cyanobacteria? 
It can be removed two ways. The best is adsorption onto activated carbon. The other is to oxidise it. The former is safe but the carbon has to be regenerated once it has reached a “saturation” point beyond which no additional toxins can be adsorbed. The latter can result in shorter molecular chains, which might become hazardous in ways not yet known. 

Once there is contamination, can it be reversed?
In SA we have never managed to reverse the process of eutrophication once it begins. The most studied system is Hartbeespoort Dam, where existing science, engineering and technology has consistently failed to reverse the process in a sustainable way. We, therefore, have to accept that this is permanent under existing technologies, so our most prudent response is to adapt if we cannot mitigate. This is where food health becomes a factor because it can buffer the consumer of the food from the invisible hazard. 

What can we do as farmers? 
Best form of risk mitigation is to firstly become aware that bulk buyers are likely to change their habits, so anticipate before they shut your market down. Second form of risk mitigation is to remove nutrients at source. If you have irrigation dams, constructed wetlands can remove nutrients in a sustainable and cost-effective manner. 

What is the treatment or prevention of this cyanobacteria in our irrigation?
Constructed wetlands remove nutrients and therefore starve the cyanobacteria of their life support. If you need more information, please reach out to me and I will link you up with appropriate service providers. 

Do we see our water situation getting better in the future and what can we do as companies to ensure safe water is being used at our facilities?
No. I do not see water quality improving in the next decade at least. Corporations will increasingly be forced to internalise risk mitigation. I will be giving a briefing in this regard to professional asset managers in the commercial investment sector next Wednesday. These are people who manage pension funds etc, and their exposure to the risk is being mitigated by means of selection of shares to be owned in a given portfolio. I have also engaged with the insurance industry, so they are also on top of the problem.  

Has there been any studies conducted to assess the effectiveness of water purification and treatment processes/systems against mycotoxins in the commercial water supply industry in South Africa?
Government denies the problem so research and technology development is stunted. However, the problem is well understood outside of SA. 

With regards to the awareness of foodborne diseases and waterborne diseases, who is responsible to raise such awareness?
Caveat emptor. Let the buyer beware. This implies bulk buyers in retail supply chains. 

Dr. Anthony Turton | Professor at the Centre for Environmental Management, University of Free State.

Q: I have some questions about food service:

How do you ensure staff, particularly sushi staff uphold a high level of integrity?

Our restaurant managers check all sections continuously and we do three walk-through audits daily. In addition to this, the head office support crew visits stores to coach and assist. Most restaurants will be visited weekly by a support crew member.

Did you see a dramatic shift in food safety culture when Covid hit, or were you well prepared? 

Our biggest shift was in the front of house, as our food safety standards in the kitchens are of a high standard. COVID introduced hand washing and sanitizing, hands-free menus and all of those additional elements.

How well do you train general food handlers? 

We have a basic course on our online academy for all crew members, in addition to this their instore training program with peers and supervised by management includes basic food handler training

What microbiological swabs do you use? 

We use a product from 3M called Protein Plus

How is Food Safety Culture communicated to staff and is it part of their training at Ocean Basket? Are the waiters trained on it as well as the back-of-house staff?

As mentioned our basic training is handled on our online academy training. Instore training in addition to this covers the rest. Waiters are trained in basic food safety too, which includes colour coding etc.  We also have daily vibe meetings where various topics are covered including food safety and hygiene.


Corne van Straaten | Ocean Basket