Business Maverick


Peanut butter scare: Retailers and manufacturers assure that their products are safe

Peanut butter scare: Retailers and manufacturers assure that their products are safe
Peanut butter brands, from left: Pick n Pay’s No Name smooth, Dischem’s Lifestyle Smooth and Crunchy, Wazoogles Superfoods and Eden All Natural have all been recalled. (Photos: Pick n Pay | Dischem | Wazoogles)

The aflatoxin risk is too high to chance it, which is why products need to be routinely tested. It’s not a foolproof system, so routine testing is vital.

There’s no need for panic: in all likelihood, your peanut butter smoothies, sandwiches and confectionery are alright. Most peanut butters produced in South Africa are safe for human consumption, retailers and manufacturers have assured.

For now, only a single manufacturer has been singled out in the nationwide recall, triggered by Pick n Pay’s announcement on 3 February that it had found elevated levels of aflatoxin during routine testing in some brands of peanut butter in its stores.

Aflatoxins are a group of carcinogenic moulds, usually found in poorly stored grains and nuts, but also in spices, cocoa beans and figs. They cannot easily be destroyed by high temperatures as they are resistant to cooking, frying, baking, and roasting.

The first recall included the Pick n Pay no-name peanut butters and Eden All Natural — produced by House of Natural Butters, a small emerging enterprise based in Kensington, Cape Town. Its other private label peanut butters, sold at Dischem, health stores and online, have now also been recalled: Wazoogles Superfoods and Dischem’s Lifestyle 400g and 800g Smooth and Crunchy.

Return these peanut butters:

Eden All Natural peanut butter.
Pick n Pay No Name peanut butter.
Wazoogles Superfoods peanut butter.
Lifestyle peanut butter.

Food safety specialist Professor Lucia Anelich explains on her website that about 4.5 billion of the world’s population, mainly in developing countries, are exposed over a long period to aflatoxins, which are found abundantly in many staple foods. Such continuous exposure at low levels can cause liver cancer, often at around 20 years after first exposure.

Ideally, exposure to the toxin should be zero, but that is practically unachievable, which is why countries set their own regulatory limits for such commodities, to limit exposure to these toxins through food and animal feed. Anelich explains that South Africa (while following the limits proposed in the Codex Alimentarius Commission standard) sets its own maximum limits, which are:

  1. A maximum of 15 micrograms/kg (parts per billion or ppb) of total aflatoxins in foods intended for further processing;
  2. A maximum of 10 micrograms/kg (ppb) of total aflatoxins, of which a maximum of five micrograms/kg of aflatoxin B1 for all foodstuffs, ready for human consumption; and
  3. A maximum of 0.05 micrograms/litre (ppb) of aflatoxin M1 in milk.

Most manufacturers and retailers told Business Maverick that they do regular testing and are therefore in full compliance with food safety regulations.

Pick n Pay does routine testing on foods, which is how it was first to raise the alarm about the two ranges of peanut butters in its stores and alerted the National Consumer Commission.

Woolworths also conducts routine testing on raw material and final peanut butter products for aflatoxin. A spokesperson said: “We can confirm our peanut butter is safe for consumption and we do not use the same supplier as other retailers who have recalled their peanut products.

“Food safety is our top priority, and quality is at the heart of what we do. We routinely monitor all our products to ensure we maintain the high standards we are proud of.”

Spar’s national retail operations executive Ed von Gericke distanced the group from the House of Natural Butters. “Our Spar house brand peanut butter is not sourced from the manufacturer in question. The Spar Group has a robust food safety management system in place that ensures all Spar brand private label suppliers comply with the required level of food safety certification.

“Our Spar private label peanut butter product, specifically, is sourced from a trusted supplier who conducts regular aflatoxin tests on all our house brand peanut butter batches. These tests consistently reveal no positive traces of aflatoxin.

“The Spar Group holds a certificate validating the absence of aflatoxin in our house brand products, and we are confident and comfortable that our supplier has rigorous testing and hygiene policies in place to monitor and report on aflatoxin, ensuring that the peanut butter produced under the Spar brand private label, as well as the supplier’s own name brand, is safe for consumers to purchase and consume.”

In addition to the group’s house brand product, it also sources branded on-shelf peanut butter products from five suppliers, all of which have up-to-date food safety certifications and agreements in place.

For extra certainty, the group has now asked each of these suppliers for their aflatoxin testing results for the past three months. “To further enhance food safety for our shoppers, we will conduct tests on the products in our own labs to verify the reports.”

However, due to the group’s independent retail model and supply chain processes, Spar retailers can also source products directly from independent suppliers. Seven Spar stores in the Western Cape had been supplying butters from the supplier in question. Von Gericke said that upon becoming aware of this, their provincial office took immediate action and isolated the products as a precaution.

The Shoprite Group says its private label peanut butter is safe to consume. “As a precaution, the aflatoxin levels in the group’s peanut butters were again tested last week,” a spokesperson said. “The quality and safety of our products are a top priority and undergo regular testing and quality checks.

“The group’s private label peanut butter – sold under the Ritebrand, Housebrand, Pot O’ Gold, Ubrand, Simple Truth and OK brand names – are not affected by the recent recall as it is produced in a different factory.”

Tiger Brands says safety and quality are “non-negotiables”.

Spokesperson Azure Fey said rigorous safety and quality assurance protocols were followed in the sourcing of raw materials, ingredients and the production of their finished products to ensure consumers could enjoy their loved brands with peace of mind.

“Specific to peanut butter, all raw material peanuts are tested prior to delivery with test results verified by the site before delivery is accepted. The finished product is again tested prior to packaging and distribution for sale. Both raw materials and finished products follow a positive release protocol, and any products that do not meet our high standards for safety and quality are rejected and safely destroyed.”

The company works with suppliers, farmers and agriculturalists as part of its Supplier Quality Assurance programme.

RCL Foods, the producer of the Yum Yum brand of butters, says it has strict safety protocols in place to ensure the continuous safety of all its products. “We have an accredited laboratory on site, with processes in place that monitors aflatoxin levels in our peanuts and peanut butter production on an ongoing basis. This is in addition to the certificates of analysis received from our peanut suppliers.

“Our records show that all products that we have produced are within acceptable norms.”

Thokoman Foods, which released its latest food safety certificates, said its peanut butter is safe to be consumed and “like the other major brands, our product quality and safety is non-negotiable”.

David Sieff, head of marketing at Thokoman, said the BRC Global Standard and Food Safety System Certifications govern their internal tests, as well as all their hygiene and safety protocols throughout the plant.

“We also require our suppliers to have their peanuts tested by a third party and issue a certificate of compliance prior to delivery.”

Food safety attorney Janusz Luterek says the system is not foolproof — nor aflatoxin a new issue. It’s also not unique to South Africa. “It’s a worldwide problem and it’s difficult to stop.”

He says more manufacturers need to do positive releases of food, where they produce food, send it for analysis and only then release it on to the market. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Geoff Coles says:

    One local Cape Town manufacturer and supplier…… and yet originally, an earlier article by Georgina, warned us against all peanut butter which was pretty shameful.
    Now properly addressed.

  • Roger Verite says:

    I’ve been following this story, as a consumer of Eden’s products since they first appeared on PnP’s shelves (can’t recall the date, but guesstimate I’ve chomped through at least 20 jars of 500g peanut butter prior to the recall). I did purchase & partially consume at least one jar in the ‘affected’ batch in January before returning it as requested.

    Despite the reporting on the matter, I’ve questions :
    What testing did/does House of Natural Butter actually have in place? Is there any historic record available?
    Was the testing that was done, the first time they had to comply with whatever standards PnP had for their own in-house products (In this case the 1kg No Name brand peanut butter).
    Do retailers have any obligation to test any/all products that they stock/sell? I ask this as there was a +/- 6-8 week gap (IIRC over Oct/Sep) where Eden was not available at PnP, but was available on Takealot.
    How is the testing for aflatoxin done, is it expensive and can the consumer do their own?

    From what I’ve read, it’s possible to ferment peanut butter to remove aflatoxin – though I have not done this myself (nor tested the results).

    • Johan Buys says:

      Roger: it sounds like you love peanut butter!

      Try Buttanutt’s product – all supplies are tested and as a bonus it is locally sourced, is pure peanut, no oils or sugars added. They also do other kinds of nut butters like macadamia, almond, cashew and pecan.

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