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April 2022

Medical food waste in the food production industry

Written by Nathalie Leblond
Food Safety and Food Processing, Medical Waste and Waste Disposal

This blog takes a look at the requirement for food products to be tested for food-safety compliance prior to distribution, and how spoiled, expired, and tested food should be disposed of correctly in a contaminated food waste container before they leave the laboratory. 

Food manufacturers are required by South African law to ensure that the food they produce is safe for consumption.

Why is food safety in manufacturing so important?

Important of food safety in the manufacturing industry

Food safety is extremely important both financially and ethically. The consequences of failing to comply with food safety standards could spell the end of a food company. In addition to being expensive for companies that have to recall a faulty product, overhaul their processes and manage a PR crisis, inadequate food safety carries a significant human cost.

Unsafe food (food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances) is thought to cause, more than 200 diseases – ranging from diarrhoea to cancers. Each year, an estimated 600 million people - one in ten - will suffer from foodborne illness or injury. An estimated 420,000 people die every year as a result of eating contaminated food.

Food safety regulations in food manufacturing

The basis for most South African food safety regulations is the R638: Regulations Governing General Hygiene Requirements for Food Premises, the Transport of Food and Related Matters.

The majority of laws regarding food safety are based on two concepts: HACCP and GMP

  • HACCP: Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points is a systematic, risk-based, management system in which food safety is addressed through the analysis and control of biological, chemical, and physical hazards from raw material production, procurement, and handling, through to manufacturing, distribution, and consumption of the finished product.
  • GMP: Good Manufacturing Practices are internationally recognised quality assurance guidelines for ensuring that products are consistently produced and controlled according to quality standards. It is designed to minimise the risks involved in any food production that cannot be eliminated through testing the final product.

Testing to ensure food safety

Lab food testing to ensure food safety

The main focus for food manufacturers should always be to deliver safe product to the
consumer. 
Depending on how it's going to be used and whether it's for export or local consumption, a finished product may be subject to various tests. These include food spoiling bacteria, mould and food pathogen counts, and chemical analyses. Microbiological analyses are performed on raw foodstuffs, ingredients, processed foods and food service products, for both human and animal consumption. 

For example, chickens are especially prone to infection by Salmonella species. Four specific strains of Salmonella are especially harmful and should be monitored in chicken products using serotyping (when positive results are obtained for the presence of Salmonella during initial testing). And processed meats are prone to Listeria, as was evidenced by the 2018 Listeria outbreak here in SA.

Shelf-life testing

An indispensable part of food safety is also shelf-life testing. Shelf-life testing should be performed to determine how long a product can be kept at specified conditions before the product is no longer safe for consumption. This is how the use-by and expiry dates are determined.

Food manufacturers may choose to do this testing in-house, in a laboratory based within their production facility, or outsource their testing to a third party food-testing lab.

How to dispose of contaminated food waste?

Food samples being analysed for bacteria, mould, or chemical contamination

But what happens to the food samples that have been analysed for bacteria, mould, or chemical contamination, or to the retention samples* that have reached their expiry date?

* In manufacturing a retention sample is kept for the duration of the use-by/before date in the same environmental conditions in which the product is sold. In other words, the same temperature requirements at which the product is sold at the supermarket, either chilled or frozen. This could be a period of 5 days up to 1 year, depending on the product.

Regardless of whether testing is done in-house or outsourced to a third-party food testing lab, food that has been tested and analysed, or which has reached it's expiry date, is now deemed to be contaminated, and should be disposed of very carefully so as not to put the public at risk.

Is contaminated food waste medical waste?

Whilst contaminated food waste is not medical waste in the same way that bandages or sharps are medical waste, contaminated food waste is generated at a site where biological research is carried out.

This means that these sites (food testing labs) are classed as Healthcare facilities according to SANS 1024 (2004): Management of Healthcare Waste, and the waste they produce is therefore automatically deemed to be Healthcare risk waste (HCRW). 

HCRW is then further categorised into hazardous and infectious waste. (You can read more about these definitions in our previous blog post: Healthcare Risk Waste Terminology 101.)

Hazardous waste: This refers to any material or substance that - if handled incorrectly - has the potential to harm people, property and the environment. Infectious waste: This refers to any material that may contain pathogens (bacteria, viruses, parasites or fungi) in sufficient concentrations to cause disease.

Based on these definitions, you can see why contaminated food waste from a testing laboratory would fall into the category of infectious waste. 

Initial has seen an increasing demand for the safe containment and disposal of contaminated / infected food waste. We provide single use, 20l food waste containers for the safe, hygienic and legally compliant disposal of contaminated food waste. 

Whether you are a large or small generator of contaminated food waste, we'll find the right waste management solution for you. Initial is fully equipped to manage the ‘cradle to grave’ process of medical and contaminated food waste containment, transportation, treatment and disposal.

Contact Initial today to discuss your medical waste disposal needs. Our experts will be able to advise on all aspects of your HCRW disposal requirements.  

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Nathalie Leblond

Nathalie Leblond

I joined Rentokil Initial South Africa in 2004 as the PA to the MD, and after 6 months maternity leave I re-joined the Company in 2009 as the Marketing Co-ordinator for Rentokil. I'm now the Marketing Communication Manager for Rentokil Initial. I'm still terrified of cockroaches (Americana's only!) but the rest of the creepy crawlies we deal with don't really bug me (see what I did there?), so I guess I'm in the right industry! I am passionate about what we do here at Rentokil Initial and also write for our Hygiene Blog, which can be found at blog.initial.co.za, and our Ambius blog - https://www.ambius.co.za/blog. Life outside of Rentokil Initial mostly revolves around my daughter, who has just turned twelve, and my husband (who is a bit older). I love living in Cape Town and wouldn't trade living here for anywhere else in the world.

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