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Food Bugs Deserve Red Cards at World Cup 2010

The thousands of soccer (football for the rest of the world) fans traveling to South Africa for the World Cup also get the opportunity for the next few weeks to sample the variety of foods available there, in addition to the action in the packed stadiums.

The arrival in South Africa of football is credited to British military garrisons located around the Cape Colony and Natal in the mid-1850s.  Football was among the first sports to be banned because of the country’s Apartheid policies.  It was the release of future South African president Nelson Mandela that marked the return of South African sports to the international arena, well before the country’s political structure was changed.  Once Mandela had been released, the process of reintegrating South Africa into the FIFA fold went quickly.  At the FIFA Congress in Zurich in July 1992, South Africa’s membership was restored, and in October 1992 South Africa made its FIFA World Cup debut, losing brutally to Nigeria, 4-0.   The South African team, nicknamed “Bafana Bafana”, became the African champions in 1998, however, and the game has since been the most popular sport in the country.

South Africa is the first African country to host the FIFA World Cup, from 11 June to 11 July 2010, starring teams from 32 countries.  The World Cup will take place in eight of South Africa’s nine provinces, using 10 stadiums in nine host cities; five of the 10 stadiums are new and the rest have been upgraded for the event. [1]

Aware of the world’s attention, South Africans are eagerly promoting the variety of their available foods and cuisines.  South Africa’s people have diverse origins, cultures, languages, and beliefs, and their food is correspondingly diverse.  From “New African Immigrant Food Flair”:

“In the post apartheid era, migrants from all over our continent have introduced a delicious new layer of gastronomic diversity to South Africa. … If you like food markets try Johannesburg’s the Congo Corner Market in Yeoville where you will find everything from aphrodisiac spices to chikwanga cassava breads. The Little Addis building in downtown Jo’burg is a blissful jumble of Ethiopian spice shops, bottle stores and coffee bars.

“If it’s restaurants you’re after try Chef Amsale Debela’s Abyssinia in Kensington, Johannesburg, where sour dough injera breads are piled high on a range of mild curry-like stews, washed down with Tej honey wine. Addis in the Cape on Long Street, Cape Town offers similar fare. Since the Ethiopian Coptic Church has many non-meat fast days within its calendar such restaurants are always ideal for vegetarians, as meat is always in the minority.

“If you fancy your African immigrant food served with Mozambican flair try the Flamingo restaurant in Troyeville, Johannesburg or Port Elizabeth’s Fernando’s Chicken House for super hot piri-piri and so much more.

“No one is ever going to get thin on the opulence of West and Central African food. This African immigrant cooking style is a delicious mélange of peanuts, palm-nuts and plantain bananas. Super-smart Congolese is available at Zemara, Pretoria where the patrons are largely diplomats and big business types. Cheap and cheerful can be had at House Ivorian in Yeoville, Johannesburg, where carp with nya-nya aubergines and attieke couscous is washed down with palm wine and cold beers.”  [2]

The South African government has intensified its focus on food safety and education, with the influx of fans from many nations and the worldwide attention focused on the country.  It explains that, although South Africa is considered a developing country, the food industry of the country is well developed and sophisticated.   The services rendered by health authorities in South Africa are generally referred to as “food safety control”. This is defined as a mandatory regulatory activity of enforcement by the relevant health authority to ensure that all foods during production, handling, storage, processing, and distribution are safe and fit for human consumption and conform to safety requirements as prescribed by law. Legislation exists aimed at ensuring that all foodstuffs and food handling facilities comply with health standards to protect consumers from unsafe food and food prepared under unhygienic conditions.  To ensure compliance, Environmental Health Practitioners (EHPs) are employed by provincial and municipal health authorities to monitor all foodstuffs and facilities through regular inspections and sampling of foodstuffs.   [3]

Government publications do not encourage purchasing food from street vendors.  Food sold by formal outlets such as supermarkets, restaurants, fast food outlets, and such are generally of high quality and considered to be safe.  Visitors are, except for fresh fruits and vegetables, advised to be cautious when obtaining foodstuffs, especially ready to eat prepared meals and other dishes, from informal outlets such as street food vendors. The general rule that the government emphasizes in these instances is: peal it*., cook it*., cool it*., or, leave it!  [3]

In contrast, however, street food in South Africa also enjoys a reputation for being tasty and varied, and is described as an integral component of the culture.  Boerewors is a South African treat sold by many street vendors.  It’s served at nearly every sporting event, farmer’s market or school event in the country. Boerewors is basically coarsely minced beef (sometimes pork and lamb is added) with spices such as coriander, pepper, nutmeg, cloves and allspice. The mixture is then stuffed into a sausage casing and grilled over an open fire.  Once cooked, it is served on a roll with carmelized onions and chutney or mustard.   Another traditional street food in Johannesburg is pap en vleis–corn meal and meat.  Vetkoek (fried cakes) are available on many inner-city street corners.  In Durban, which has the country’s largest Indian population, a “bunny chow” is Durban street food made up of half a loaf of hollowed-out bread filled with hot curry.  [4]

In fact, street food vending in South Africa is probably the largest employer in the informal sector, and one of the major contributors to the South African economy. A 2005 FAO/WHO study summarized prior research focused on improving street food vending and promoting street food safety.  Prior studies concluded that the production of relatively safe street foods, with low bacterial counts, was possible even under improper hygiene conditions and a lack of basic sanitary facilities.  Overall, the microbiological quality of foods from which samples were taken was within acceptable safety limits.  The presence of Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella and yeasts was however also indicative of a degree of ignorance of the food handlers (at the vending sites) towards proper hygiene practices. [5]

A number of local jurisdictions have implemented a variety of efforts to improve the safety of street food.  These include registering all street food vendors, providing them with basic food safety education, and allocating specific sites for them as strictly food-vending sites. At these sites, basic facilities are provided for the vendors such as cleaning services, running water, washbasins, storage facilities, and toilets.  The study concluded that improving the safety of street-vended foods in any developing country is a great challenge, and that experiences in South Africa have shown that more additional research needs to be conducted to determine the safety and socio-economic importance of street foods. [5]

The private sector has also geared up to promote food safety.  The Food Safety Initiative of the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa, in cooperation with the Directorate: Food Control of the Department of Health and the World Health Organization sent a reminder to all businesses in the food productio
n sector to be on their best food safety behavior during the FIFA 2010 Soccer World Cup.  The message stressed the obvious public health and economic implications of a major foodborne disease incident, including damage to the brand name of an implicated product.  It stated that during the World Cup event South Africa will be under an intense media spotlight, which may shape the world’s perceptions of South Africa for years to come. All food businesses, and especially those directly involved in the provision of food for the World Cup, were encouraged to review their food safety practices and procedures to be certain that everything possible has been done to ensure that South Africa will enjoy an incident-free World Cup. [6]

Additionally, Graham Sandford, director of the South African Food Safety Corporation, launched the official South Africa Food Safety Star Rating Scheme at Durban Country Club in Early March, 2010, saying it would put the country on a par with similar standards overseas.  Sandford said that with the World Cup around the corner and the influx of thousands of visitors, “the timing is right”.  The star rating scheme identifies the level of food safety, with the ultimate grading being five stars.  The scheme is based on a technical survey, with inspections covering such issues as how food is prepared, handled, and processed, the level of compliance with food hygiene and safety regulations, how waste food is disposed of and the cleaning operations.  Although it is not compulsory, Sandford believes the industry will support it.  Star ratings would be placed outside restaurants and hotels, and customers would be able to go on to a Website, www.safoodsafetycorporation.co.za, to check on the rating of a business.  [7]   

Ultimately, all vendors and consumers are reminded of the World Health Organization golden rules for safe food preparation:
o    Choose foods processed for safety;
o    Cook food thoroughly;
o    Eat cooked foods immediately;
o    Store cooked foods carefully;
o    Reheat cooked foods thoroughly or keep cold;
o    Avoid contact between raw foods and cooked foods;
o    Wash hands repeatedly;
o    Keep all surface and utensils clean;
o    Protect food from insects, rodents and other animals; and
o    Use clean and pure water.    [3]


1.    South Africa 2010 Fifa World Cup (http://www.sa2010.gov.za), June 10, 2010.

2.    “New African Immigrant Food Flair”, SOUTHAFRICA.info (the official gateway), http://www.southafrica.net, June 10, 2010.

3.    “Food Safety Fact Sheet” Health A-Z, South Africa 2010 FIFA World Cup, http://www.sa2010.gov.za/en/confederations-cup/health-z, June 10, 2010.

4.    “WORLD CUP REPORT: SOUTH AFRICAN STREET FOOD”, New York Street Food, The Best Street Food in New York and Beyond, posted on Thursday, June 3rd, 2010.

5.    “IMPROVING STREET FOOD VENDING IN SOUTH AFRICA: ACHIEVEMENTS AND LESSONS LEARNED”, FAO/WHO Regional Conference on Food Safety for Africa, Harare, Zimbabwe, 3-6 October 2005.

6.    Food Safety Initiative (CGCSA), Copyright ©2009 Joburg Market.

7.    “Drive to raise SA’s food safety standards”, Barbara Cole, The Daily News, March 05, 2010.

© Food Safety News
  • Lita Hartman

    Where does the heading come from? Is it grand to spread negativity?

  • andy weisbecker

    Sorry, did not mean to be negative at all; simply a joke about food bugs being banned (as in red cards in soccer). If you read the article, hopefully it comes across positively as regards both the food and the efforts to keep it safe. Was in SA two years ago, and loved it. aw

  • Tonny Okello

    Good article despite the heading.
    The next time I visit S.Africa, I’ll have an idea what joints to visit.