Food safety

Chicken should not be thawed and repacked

Master plan negotiators have been less successful in getting the government to end a dispensation with food safety risks – the thawing, repackaging and refreezing of imported chicken.

The problem is that chicken imports arrive in large frozen bulk packs, which are then thawed and broken up for distribution, repacked and refrozen or in some cases sold as fresh. The master plan notes that thawing and handling can compromise food safety, and should be stopped.

What it does not say is that while repacking imported frozen food can introduce food safety risks, even at the best facilities taking every precaution, it can be hazardous when done by less scrupulous middlemen and other operators. 

The ultimate aim is to have imported chicken packed (and properly labelled) in smaller distribution packs in the producer country, preferably customised for particular retailers. This may be a long way off.

The extent to which master plan implementation is behind schedule is shown by the fact that the relevant regulations were supposed to have been reviewed by the end of 2019 with “new regulations if required published asap thereafter”.

Three government departments are involved – the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition, and the Department of Health. There has been disagreement between them, with Agriculture opposing repackaging but Health allowing it.

As the Covid-19 pandemic recedes, and restrictions are lifted, the pressure will be on these departments to get their act together and put the master plan back on track.

Image: Photo captured by FairPlay of imported chicken for sale in a supermarket, 2019.