Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Inside how Choppies got away with breaking food safety laws ÔÇô for years

Leaked documents show that inspectors continued to seize and destroy expired, damaged, wrongly labelled, rotten, weevil-infested and mould-attacked food items from Choppies and its sister company, ILO Industries, after the massive 2009 raid on the superstore.

They also show that Botswana’s National Food Laboratory found evidence of bacterial contamination in tests on ILO Industries food samples on at least three occasions in 2011 and 2012.

There is no evidence that other than the destruction of the food items, any action was taken against the company.

The trade ministry’s permanent secretary, Peggy Serame, told amaBhungane that after the 2009 crackdown her ministry warned Choppies to comply with consumer laws.

 “In future we will take action against any business enterprise party that contravenes the law,” Serame said.

Under the Food Control Act, anyone found in possession of food liable to seizure faces a fine of not less than P1 000 and a maximum six-month prison term. In theory this would apply to each condemned or contaminated item.

The court may also cancel or suspend any licence relevant to the offence.

The Public Health Act states that “no person shall sell … or bring into Botswana or … have in his possession without reasonable excuse any food for human consumption in a diseased or unwholesome state which is unfit for human consumption”. 

Asked what action it had taken under the Act, the health ministry responded that “the press pursuing issues of 2012 do not improve food safety”.

Choppies said it has put measures in place to address the problems.

The documents show that between January 2010 and September 2011, the Lobatse council issued seven condemnation certificates under the Public Health Act or Food Control Act to Choppies warehouse, Choppies Cash ‘n Carry and ILO industries. They included:

ÔÇó a January 11 2010 certificate listing 29 expired, damaged or dented items;

ÔÇó on January 6 2010 770kg of rice, 300kg of maize rice and 250kg of peanuts were listed as rotten, and 400kg of samp, 250kg of popcorn and 100kg of black-eyed peas as weevil-infested;

ÔÇó on February 22 2010 18 separate items were listed as weevil-attacked, including 845kg of popcorn, 643kg of cow peas and 271kg of black-eyed peas;

ÔÇó On 27 July 2010 more than a tonne of Choppies rice was listed as mould-attacked and 200kg of waste bean as weevil-infested, among 29 condemned items;

ÔÇóOn August 12 2011, 20 items including sweets, cold drinks and packs of meat were listed as expired, damaged or “petrified”.

ÔÇó On September 1 2011 more than a tonne of chicken spice, 775kg of chip spice and 750kg of braai spice were among those condemned as lacking an identification label, manufacturer’s name, place of origin or list of ingredients.

The leaked documents also show that in 2011 and 2012, the health ministry’s National Food Laboratory tested a range of spices packed by ILO Industries and found them wanting:

ÔÇó a report of August 17 noted the bacterium E.coli in samples of BBQ spice, chicken spice and steak and chip spice, and the bacterium Colistridium perfringens in BBQ spice. Both can cause food poisoning.

ÔÇó A report of March 19 2012 noted E. coli in braai spice and Cl. Perfringens in the braai spice, crushed chillies, chicken spice, steak and chop spice and paprika.

“Proper quality control measures must be put in pace at production … as these organisms must not be detected in the spice,” the laboratory notes.

ÔÇó  A report of May 2 2012 noted E. coli in the crushed chilli sample, which also showed a high mould count.

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