Food producers have a plethora of documents going back and forth these days, much of it to comply with the various food safety standards, and to backdate or generate documents before a scheduled audit constitutes fraudulent behaviour.
Sometimes documentation slips through and staff forget – but that need never happen with Comply Cloud, a web-based, paperless food safety management platform that gives a visual overview of all documentation scheduling and their status of completion.
“If you can use a smart phone you can used the Comply Cloud,” says Retha Faul, who, after fifteen years in the food industry established Retha Faul Consulting, an independent food safety consultancy ten years ago.
Fruit and vegetables are her first love, she notes, but their work spans across all food industries. “I realised there was a big need among farmers and among food processors to put compliance systems into place. It was long a dream of mine to offer my clients assistance with this and we launched it two years ago.”
Right: Comply Cloud helps an enterprise to keep track of food safety processes
The system which takes over the majority of the time-consuming paper work, is compatible with Microsoft, Apple and Google, and does not need to be downloaded.
Their clients are across South Africa, comprising vegetable, herb and fruit production, as well as slicing and dicing; companies like Nature’s Garden, ZZ2, Novasun and others.
“There are many young people entering the industry but they don’t always have the experience,” Retha remarks. They provide training courses as required by the many food standards for instance HACCP, FSSC, BRCGS, as well as for internal and supplier auditing.
“We offer training in all of the standards, a basic introduction to the specific standard and training into its implementation. We have a SETA-accredited facilitator who present our remote training courses.”
She remarks that in the ten years of assisting clients in assuring food safety, there has not been a single recall of their products, a not uncommon occurrence: last year frozen beans and stir fry mix from a major South African processor was recalled due to glass contamination.
Use of unregistered chemicals
Food fraud and food defense risk training and assessment is another aspect to their work.
Right: signage to regulate re-entry periods after chemical spraying
“In fresh produce you have to address food fraud, and the biggest incident of food fraud here is when producers use unregistered pesticides on a crop for which it is not registered. This is not only illegal and a producer can be prosecuted, but it also has serious consequences for human health and for the environment. It also leads to the build-up of resistance among crops.”
Unregistered products do not comply with health and environmental standards with possible longterm health impacts. In the Comply Cloud platform, spray records are easily completed, using a dropdown menu only providing the registered products for a crop, along with its active ingredient, preharvest interval and the reason for the spraying.
It still depends on the honesty of the person completing the spray records, she admits, but retailers are becoming stricter with suppliers on maximum residue tests, she says, and they insist that their suppliers are Global GAP-certified and conduct random spot checks on the produce they receive without forewarning the suppliers.
Retha says she is worried about pesticide exposure, and she observes that the municipal fresh markets accept all produce regardless of certification, and therefore there is no monitoring of what is sprayed on farms that have not been audited by Global GAP.
“There is definitely a very high risk in the longterm and I think it’s one of the reason so many people are getting cancer as a result of the unregistered poisons on our food. Poisons can have a big effect if you work with it, which is why PPE is very important, things like using filters that have not expired.”
Unless they sign a waiver form, once a year everyone working with poisons are sent for a blood tests, she says, and among her clients these tests have picked up excessive exposure among spray operators which can then be addressed.
“Of course, a worker also needs to have worn the correct protective clothing, so we also provide training into safe handling procedure of pesticides. We’ve seen what poison exposure can do to employees.”
She considers Global GAP a very effective mechanism to monitor pesticide spraying, although unscrupulous growers could always get around it.
Water quality is regularly tested for pathogens
Concerning drop in vegetable production
“Recently I’ve been noticing that many of our large vegetable growers plant fewer vegetables and far more grain, primarily maize, soya and wheat. Vegetable farming is very labour-intensive compared to grain farming. Input costs just go up. Pesticide and fertilisers have become very expensive since Russia’s war. But farmers are not getting more – some of my clients have told me that they have been getting the same price for the past five years.”
One of her clients has an 800 hectare farm but these days the only plant 200ha of it with vegetables, and it worries her for the future of the country’s food security.
“Loadshedding is the other big problem: some of my clients don’t sleep, they drive around at night to switch on pumps when the electricity comes on. I find this really worrying. Producers are just trying to keep head above water.”
For more information:
Retha Faul Consultancy
Tel: +27 83 415 0748