There’s something rotten in South Africa’s spaza shops, and it’s not just the vegetables. Fake food products are making their way onto the shelves of these township stores, and consumers are left to deal with the health effects thereof. The proximity of spaza shops makes it the go-to shopping solution for many cash-strapped South Africans, however, communities are now wondering how safe it is to consume their goods.
From cloned cool drinks to fake expiration dates and used condoms allegedly sold by some shops, it seems that nothing is off limits for the counterfeiters.
The deaths of primary school children due to suspected food poisoning after eating snacks bought from a spaza shop, and dozens being hospitalised in another incident, have made headlines.
The authorities are now clamping down on these establishments and spaza shops in different communities continue to be raided, and food labelled as expired is thrown out.
Concern at an all-time high
South Africans continue to express their concerns on social media that children keep dying and falling sick from spaza shop foods.
Phumeza Mdlalose from Kempton Park, whose child had a rash all over his body after eating cakes from a spaza shop, says she usually checks the expiration date, but it too can be fake at times, so she has stopped buying from spaza shops completely.
“I usually check the expiration date before I buy. If I see that the food is not genuine, I don’t eat it; I would rather throw it away because if you return it, they don’t take it back.
It tarnishes trustworthy brands
A Johannesburg resident, who would like to remain anonymous, says she bought mayonnaise from a Pakistan spaza shop, which tasted awful. She then checked the expiration date and realised that it was way beyond the expiration date.
“Fortunately, I realised early that it’d expired, but my stomach was very unsettled. Spaza shops are convenient but should be run by our people so that they can combat the enormous unemployment rate in our country,” she says.
“The big companies producing food must also intervene because their brands are being tarnished. Government officials must also intervene because our lives are at stake.”
Dept of health weighs in
The Gauteng department of health has committed itself to fighting unhealthy goods in communities following the continuous deaths of children after consuming items from these shops.
Penny Campbell, the food control directorate director at the national department of health, says selling fake food poses a major concern because it has a major effect on the health of the consumer. She also alerts us to a few ways to spot fake food.
“Consumers should always check if the premises have a certificate of acceptability. Anybody who wants to handle food must have a certificate of acceptability issued by an environmental health practitioner from the municipality. If they don’t have the certificate of acceptability, it means they are operating illegally, whether they are producing safe food, fake food, or counterfeit goods.”
Consumers urged to do their share
Campbell further advises that consumers should be on the lookout and report illicit food and goods sold to the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa and alert regulators about fake products.
The Consumer Goods Council of South Africa, which is the association body for the industry for both retailers and manufacturers, has developed a notification page for consumers to report any fake foods that they might be seeing out there. Consumers should report any suspicions they come across.
According to Limpopo-based registered dietitian Kulani Mtileni, there are many potential health effects associated with consuming fake food, as it is full of artificial ingredients and most of them have never been tested.
“The effects include and are not limited to increased cancer risk (too many sweeteners and preservatives that are not put according to measure are carcinogenic (cancerous), too much sugar, sodium, and fat, and too many of these ingredients lead to serious health issues like obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes). Lacking in nutritional value, calorie dense, and addictive,” he says.
It is therefore essential to look for signs of damage, as well as changes in the colour of packaging and the content of the product.
Mtileni further advises on important things to look out for to identify fake food items:
- Check the label: The longer the ingredient list, the more fake a food is.
- Check the best-before date: This is for long-shelf-life dry or canned products.
- Sell by date: This has been used for perishable food, which is usually stored in a refrigerator.
- Check the expiration date: Which means that food is no longer palatable after this date. For perishable food, this means it can no longer be consumed.
“This is a very difficult one for consumers because this includes verifying the brands of the products, such as soft drinks and canned foodstuffs, that are being sold, and remember that in most instances, these fake foods are in townships and villages where we normally don’t have much information about food products. We just buy what we see or what is available.”
More inspections needed
Moreover, he suggests that the health department and environmental health and consumer protection must work hand in hand to continue doing inspections to protect the general public.
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