Food for thought

Food for thought

This month’s column concerns a subject that is extremely close to my heart: food!

Some people eat to live. Yours truly, on the other hand, lives to eat. I have an unhealthy obsession with food: I simply adore the stuff.

But I am in a privileged position. I am seldom hungry. If I am, it’s because I am on deadline and I don’t have time to eat. I have never starved because I cannot afford to buy food.

Sadly, this situation doesn’t apply to everyone on this overburdened planet of ours. In fact, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, 805 million people around the world go hungry.

Closer to home, this problem is massive. According to Claire Bloom, ex-United States (US) Navy officer, who is founder and executive director of End 68 Hours of Hunger (a US-based non-profit organisation that fights childhood hunger), childhood hunger – or food insecurity – is a national problem. “After a while, children who receive insufficient food on a regular basis, or miss entire meals, experience ‘fear of hunger’, which affects their behaviour as much as physical hunger affects their bodies,” she says.

Bloom will visit South Africa later this year to present a workshop on ending childhood hunger at the SAPICS 2015 conference, taking place from May 31 to June 2 at Sun City.

According to Bloom, 19 percent of South African children have no breakfast, and 51 percent have no lunch. “Some
800 000 of these children are under the age of five, and the malnutrition they experience has a profound impact on their future. When children are hungry, they cannot learn, and, if they cannot learn, they cannot master the information and skills they are taught in school,” says Bloom.

Poor food distribution is one of the reasons for this sorry situation. According to the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), 30 to 50 percent of food produced on a global basis is wasted before it reaches consumers. It is estimated that South Africa generates over nine million tonnes of food waste per year. “This also results in environmental impacts throughout the supply chain, as well as the waste of resources used in food production and distribution,” explains Bloom.

Meanwhile, the lackadaisical approach to quality control on the part of local food companies is a worry. This is not exclusively a South African problem: in the early 1990s, US fast food chain, Jack in the Box, sold hamburgers contaminated with E. coli bacteria. Hundreds of people got sick as a result and four children died. It is estimated that the company lost US$ 160 million.

Closer to home, some other operational gaps have been made evident in two recent cases. One saw Tiger Brands having to recall around 17 000 of its Tastic Simply Delicious cooking sauces and rice products after tests found traces of potentially carcinogenic ingredients. Tiger Brands reported it had found traces of the colourants methyl yellow and Sudan 1 in some of the products made between June and July 2014 at a factory in India. While the full cost of the recall is unknown, the company’s share value took a slight knock at the time.

The jury is still out on retailer Woolworths surrounding three recent food issues. First, a dead frog was found in a Woolworths lettuce pack; then a roach was found in a pack of its own-label noodles; and, later, a live frog was found in a pack of lettuce.

Woolworths is claiming sabotage, but, as Amanda Rogaly, MD of FoodSure, says: “Whether it’s sabotage or a fault in the food processes used by the retailer, what we have here are operational gaps. While food retailers and manufacturers are doing all they can to comply with necessary food standards, they cannot always be aware of the weaknesses in their operational procedures.”

FoodSure is a food label verification company, which provides independent checks and balances for retailers and manufacturers to reduce the risk associated with non-compliance.

FoodSure is working with Ronel Arnold, a leading consultant in South Africa. “There are some food companies that are very serious about how they operate, although in South Africa we do tend to have a ‘wait and see’ attitude. We’re waiting to see which company will be hit the hardest by a food scare and we are perhaps not taking enough preventative action now,” she tells SHEQ MANAGEMENT.

This is scary stuff! It is clear that this country is facing major challenges on the food front …

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