ON 21 FEBRUARY this year, the National Consumer Forum sent out an alert from the global consumer group Consumers International, warning that Britain had ordered the removal from shops of almost 600 foodstuffs found to be contaminated with a cancer-causing dye – Sudan Red.
The next day, NCF chairman Thami Bolani was quoted in an article by the SA Press Association as saying that the NCF was working to ensure that any affected products in South Africa would be taken off the shelves. As a non-governmental organisation, he said, the NCF relied on publicity and government willingness to help protect the consumer. Bolani also spoke on SA FM, KFM, Radio 702, Kaya FM and Cape Talk to get the warning out.
A month later (20 March), South Africa’s biggest newspaper – the Sunday Times – announced that they had discovered Sudan Red in a range of products and sparked the country’s biggest food recall ever. Thousands of stores, including the country’s four main grocery chains, took the products on the Sunday Times list off their shelves. The day after the story broke, the Department of Health instructed all provincial health departments and local authorities to remove chilli powder and allied products found to contain Sudan Red dye from shop shelves and hold them for further analysis. “In addition, local authorities have been requested to sample all other chilli powders and related products, and where any Sudan dyes are detected, the relevant products should be removed from the shelves and destroyed,” the department said.
Over the following weeks, the department’s chemical laboratory in Cape Town ran more tests. By 5 April, it confirmed that four more food products have tested positive for the Sudan Red dye, and by 21 April it found a further nine products contaminated. Retailers blamed their suppliers, and suppliers in turn blamed government authorities for not picking up the problem in their testing procedures. In most cases, suppliers absolved themselves from blame by producing certificates that indicated the ingredients they used were free from contamination (see table on this page). But maybe something good can come from this.