Guidelines for the Health Certification of Consignments of Foodstuffs
Destined for Export to other Countries from South Africa
Department of Health
Directorate: Food Control
Table of Contents
Background Information Related to the Issuing of a Health Certificate
of Health Certification
Responsibilities of the various Role Players Involved in Health Certification
Criteria for Health Certificates
Parties Involved in the Certification of Foodstuffs Destined for Exports
- Role of
the Codex Committee on Food Import and Export Inspection and Certification
Since returning to the international arena, many export opportunities are
presented to producers/ manufacturers in South Africa of, amongst others,
foodstuffs on overseas markets. This resulted in a drastic increase in the
exportation of consignments of all kinds of foodstuffs to countries all over
the world, including the rest of Africa. This has lead to an increase in
requests received by the health services at the various levels of the health
system for the issuing of certificates related to various health related
aspects regarding the status of the foodstuffs destined for export from a food
safety point of view. These certificates are normally required by the relevant
authorities controlling the importation of foodstuffs of the countries where
the consignment exported from this country are destined for and is considered
to be part of the essential documentation which a prospective exporter of
foodstuffs must obtain to ensure the success of its overseas business venture.
At present, no health related food safety or food control legislation in
South Africa provides for any arrangements or requirements related to the
issuing of a health certificate for consignments of foodstuffs destined for
export. In view of the serious implication for the country, (internationally,
politically and economically), which this matter, if handled in an
irresponsible and unprofessional manner by officers of the various health
authorities can have, a need was identified by the Department of Health,
Directorate: Food Control for the development of this guideline document.
The aims of the guideline are therefore to:
|Assist health authorities, more specifically the Environmental Health
Services of provinces and district or local authorities to address the
issuing of health certificates in a systematic and internationally
acceptable manner. |
|Assist prospective exporters, (manufacturers or their agents), of
foodstuffs with information related to the issuing of health certificates
and how, amongst others, to obtain such certificates. |
|Ensure uniformity regarding the issuing of health certificates by all
the health authorities in South Africa based on national and international
norms and standards set in this regard. |
|Provide information on other role players involved in the certification
of foodstuffs related to matters other than health, as well as examples of
documents related to health certificates for utilisation by health
The information contained in this document is mainly based on and updating
of the official documents previously issued by this Department on the matter
in question, as well as on the decisions of the Codex Committee on Import and
Export Inspection and Certification Systems (CCIEICS), including the General
Requirements (Volume 1A) of the Codex Alimentarius Commission.
refers to a person such as an Environmental Health
Officer, who is employed by a competent health authority within the national
health system and who has been specifically authorised, or by virtue of his
official functions related to food control authorised to compile, sign and
issue a health certificate related to the compliance to health requirements of
a consignment of foodstuffs destined for export as based on the criteria
specified by the importing country.
"Competent Health Authority" refers within the national health system
of South Africa to the relevant national, provincial, district or local
authority which is mandated to attend to food safety/control matters,
including the issuing of a health certificate as described by these guidelines
and as determined by the relevant authority of the importing country who
required the certificate in question. Within the present arrangement, the
Directorate: Food Control of the Department of Health is the competent
authority at a national level, while at the other levels mentioned, the
Environmental Health Services will be the authority unless otherwise arranged.
For the purpose of these guidelines, any reference to a "Competent
Authority", will refer to a party other than a health authority who is
also involved in the certification of consignments of foodstuffs destined for
export, such as the Department of Agriculture or the South African Bureau of
Standards (SABS), depending on the foodstuff and/or reason for certification
"Consignment of foodstuffs" refers to a specific batch/lot of
foodstuffs as specified on the relevant export documentation of the exporter
and which can be identified by the certifying officer for inspection/sampling
purposes, depending on the nature of the certification as determined by the
"Export" refers to the exporting of consignments of foodstuffs
produced/processed/manufactured in South Africa and destined for any other
"Exporter" refers to a person or body requesting a health certificate
as described by this guideline, including the producer/manufacturer of the
consignment of foodstuffs destined for export, or his agent/assignee.
"Food safety" refers to the assurance that food will not cause harm to
the consumer when it is prepared and/or eaten according to its intended use.
"Food Control" means a mandatory, regulatory activity of enforcement by
the competent health authority to provide consumer protection and ensure that
all food during production, handling, storage, processing and distribution is
safe, wholesome and fit for human consumption; conform to safety requirements;
and are honestly and accurately labelled as prescribed by law.
"Health Certificate" refers to an official written document issued and
signed by a certifying officer employed by a competent health authority,
containing full details of the food safety related status of a consignment of
foodstuffs destined for export, as prescribed by this guideline and in
compliance with the criteria specified by the relevant authority of the
importing country, and where "Health Certification" has a similar
"Importing country" refers to any country to which a consignment of
foodstuffs produced/processed/manufactured in South Africa is destined to be
"Safe (or fit) for human consumption" when referring to the health
status of a consignment of foodstuff(s) certified as based on this guideline
and when including the mentioned phrase in the contents of a health
certificate, means compliance of the specific consignment to all the health
related legislative requirements of South Africa for the foodstuff(s) in
Background Information Related to the Issuing of a Health Certificate
The following information is included in the guideline to ensure that a
uniform approach is followed by the various competent health authorities; to
emphasise the importance of ensuring that this matter is dealt with in a
responsible and professional manner by all concerned; and to prevent problems
related to the certification as presently experienced.
3.1 Internationally, certificates have become increasingly important for
facilitating trade, including health certification of foodstuffs destined for
export and it has become an established component of trade activities related
to any kind of foodstuff. While there is a steady increase in reliance on
certificates, it is however possible to conduct trade between countries
without their use.
Certificates, including for health related matters, have developed
independently over the years with the result that there can be a great
variation between countries in content requirements. The difficulties
presented to, amongst others, health authorities, relate to the issue of
health certificates that meet the needs of the importing country and the lack
of consistency between countries in relation to the specific information
needed for clearance of consignments of foodstuffs at the point of entry.
3.2 The Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act, 1972 (Act 54 of 1972)
at present contains no provisions related to export matters. A competent
health authority, including local authorities authorised in terms of Section
23 of the mentioned Act, should therefore be aware that any activity related
to the certification of foodstuffs destined for export is not covered by the
In view of the economic importance of, amongst others, the exportation of
foodstuffs to the development of the country, it is important for the health
authorities concerned to ensure that they are capable to assist prospective
exporters regarding the health certification of consignments of foodstuffs
destined for export. This aspect should therefore be considered an essential
element of the food control related service rendered by these authorities to
the food industry of the country.
3.3 Due to the international implications, which the health certification
of the foodstuffs in question can have for the country, both from an
economical and political point of view, it is crucial for the competent health
authorities involved in the certification process to ensure that it is carried
out in a responsible and professional manner. The indiscriminate issuing and
signing of health certificates is not just unethical, but could also lead to
great embarrassment for those concerned; loss of trade opportunities; and
damage the reputation of the country as an exporter of high quality and safe
foodstuffs. A situation where, for example, a certifying officer of a
competent health authority certifies that a specific consignment of foodstuffs
has been sampled and found to comply to compositional standards, (chemical or
microbiological) which is then rejected by an importing country at the time of
entry based on the results of their own sampling which indicates that the
consignment does in fact not comply, will not be acceptable and may even
result in financial claims against the health authority involved.
The responsibility to ensure that a health certificate contains the correct
and true information is that of the certifying officer and the competent
health authority involved.
3.4 It is the prerogative of the importing country to indicate which
aspects related to a consignment of foodstuffs destined for that country must
be certified, as well as by whom the certification should be carried out and
in what format they require the certification. Although the Codex Alimentarius
Commission has set guidelines regarding the Principles for Food Import and
Export Inspection and Certification, which is further discussed and elaborated
on by the relevant Codex Committee of the Commission, importing countries in
most cases determine their own requirements in this regard.
In general, the less sophisticated countries, (developing countries),
require less stringent certification than the more sophisticated countries,
which in many cases only accept certification carried out by a body assigned
or accredited by such country to deal with this matter. Certificates
containing declarations such as "fit for human consumption", and/or, "the
foodstuff certified is freely available in this country", will in some
instances be sufficient for certain importing countries, but should where
possible not be included on official certificates without proper verification
of the health status of the consignment under consideration.
Types of Health Certification
Various types of health certification, based on by whom it is carried out
as well as for what purpose it is required, exists which for clarity purposes
is described as follows:
4.1 Voluntary and Official Certification
Voluntary certification refers to those situations where an importing
country is satisfied that the exporter self carries out the required
certification, or arranges for a third party, in other words, not the
competent health authority, to carry out the certification on his behalf. This
is also referred to as "company certification".
Official certification refers to the certification process that can only be
handled by a competent health authority in this country as recognised by the
importing country and that the documentation resulting from the process will
be considered as officially issued by the relevant authority.
This guideline is intended mainly for use by officers employed by the
various health authorities and is therefore aimed assisting with the issuing
of official health certificates.
4.2 Compliance Certification
Compliance certification can be divided into the following types based on
the various aspects related to the safety for human consumption of the
consignments in question:
- Product related compositional and/or labelling requirements:
Certification of compliance to the compositional characteristics, (chemical
and/or microbiological) of a specific foodstuff and/or its labelling as
based on the provisions of the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act,
1972 (Act 54 of 1972) and more specifically the wide range of regulations
published thereunder. Where no provision is made in the mentioned
legislation for a compositional or labelling requirement which health
certification is requested for by the importing country, without specifying
its own requirement, the requirements specified in the relevant codes of
practice or guidelines of Codex Alimentarius will be applicable. In some
instances, the importing country will specify its own requirements, which a
competent health authority should verify and include in the certificate.
- Facility related structural and/or hygiene requirements:
Certification of compliance to the structural and/or hygiene related
requirements of the facility where the consignment has been produced or
manufactured as based on the provisions of the Health Act, 1977 (Act 63 of
1977) and more specifically the food handling and food premises related
regulations published under the Act, as well as the provisions of the
relevant by-laws of local authorities where applicable.
In addition, various hygiene related codes of practice or guidelines
have been developed by Codex Alimentarius, and if requested by the importing
country, the competent health authority should apply these requirements.
- Contamination related requirements: Certification of compliance
to the requirements of Act 54 of 1972 related to aspects such as pesticides,
heavy metals and radio-active residue’s, as well as filth and other
substances such as insect and plant parts which can be present in
foodstuffs. All the mentioned contaminants are associated with the
environment in which food is produced or processed and should meet
acceptable levels as prescribed by the relevant regulations or guidelines.
- Food Treatment related requirements: Certification of compliance
to the requirements of approved processes by which foodstuffs can be treated
to ensure the safety thereof such pasteurisation, UV treatment, irradiation,
- Safety Management systems related requirements: Certification of
compliance to the requirements of a HACCP system, or a similar system based
on the principles and process of a HACCP system as specified in the relevant
guideline of Codex Alimentarius. HACCP auditing and certification can only
be conducted by a person or body suitably assigned or accredited to conduct
the mentioned activities, and a competent health authority will have to base
this kind of certification on documented evidence submitted by the
exporter in this regard.
In conclusion, it is important to note that a competent health authority
may be approached by an importing country for the certification of any one of
the above-mentioned; or for all of it; or for any combination of more than one
of the requirements as stated. In all cases, the certifying officer must,
however, be very certain what needs to be certified when requested to do so.
Responsibilities of the various Role Players Involved in Health
Various role players are involved in the health certification process and
it is important that they have clarity on what their respective
responsibilities are to ensure that the matter is dealt with in an effective
and professional manner. The following is a description of the
responsibilities of the different role players which should be applicable
under normal circumstances:
- The Importing country:
Although the purpose of the guideline is not intended for use by
countries to which foodstuffs from this country is exported to, it was
considered to be necessary to give an indication of what can be expected
from the relevant authorities in such countries when requesting health
certification. It will be the responsibility of the exporter to ensure that
the aspects mentioned hereafter, are attended to by the importing country:
- An exporter and/or competent health authority should only be asked to
certify matters which can be reasonably expected to be within its ability
to ascertain, or be in a position to obtain such information from another
authority or other source at its disposal
- What from a health point of view needs to be certified and the
criteria or requirements to be certified. must be clearly stated in
writing, including which level of the competent health authority in this
country will be required to issue the health certificate in question.
- If specific requirements regarding the format and contents of the
health certificate requested is required, clear written instructions
together with an example of the certificate should be made available to
the exporter and/or competent health authority.
- The Exporter:
- Ensure that full details of the certification required by the
importing country as described above are included in the written request
for the health certification of a consignment of foodstuffs submitted to
the competent health authority, (national-, provincial- or local
authority), as determined by the importing country.
- Ensure that that all written requests for certification as described
under point 1 above takes place prior to consignments of foodstuffs
destined for export leaves the premises where it can be inspected and/or
sampled by the competent health authority in question.
- Pay all costs related to the health certification as requested
incurred by the competent health authority, if requested to do so, and as
determined by the health authority in question. This may include, inter
alia, costs related to the despatch and analysis of samples and
administrative costs such as travelling etc.
- The Competent Health Authority:
After receiving a written request by an exporter containing clear details
of the requirements of an importing country, as described above, as well as
taking into account the aspects mentioned under Chapter 3 of these
guidelines, the competent health authority must ensure the following:
- Ensure that a procedure for the effective processing of requests for
certification received is established and that staff properly aquatinted
with the contents of this guideline attends to the requests in question.
- In preparation for the certification of a consignment based on a
written request received from an exporter, take steps to verify whether
the foodstuffs comply to the requirements as stated by the importing
country by means of the results of, inter alia, inspection reports,
analysis of sample reports, etc.
- Ensure that no certification of consignments which have already been
removed from the exporters premises or been shipped is carried out.
- Ensure that the contents of drafted certificates are fully understood
by the certifying officer employed by such an authority and that it meets
all the requirements of the importing country as stated by the exporter.
- Ensure that proper record is kept of the certification carried out by
such an authority, including the allocation of a unique reference number
for each certificate issued and keeping of copies of all documents
verifying compliance of the consignment in question.
- The Certifying Officer:
- Only an officer properly authorised by the relevant health authority
by means of an official document of authorisation or deriving from his
normal official duties, may carry out the certification of consignments.
- Ensure that the contents of certificates issued by him are based on
correct, true and prior verified information and meet the needs of the
- Ensure that certificates contain full details related to the
information required for the contents of such certificates as specified by
- Ensure the following regarding the proper processing and
record-keeping of all certificates handled by him:
- Certificates should always be issued and presented to the exporter
in the original. Only one original certificate in respect of each
consignment should be issued.
- A copy of the certificate (clearly marked "COPY") should be
kept as a record by the health authority.
- Where for any good reason (such as damage in transit) a duplicate
certificate is issued, it must be clearly marked "DUPLICATE"
before being issued.
- The issuing of so called "standing certificates" to be used again
for the export of further consignments at a later stage is not
- When signing a certificate, the officer must ensure that:
- The certificate contains no deletions other than those required by
the text of the certificate.
- Any alterations of the certified information must be initialled and
stamped by the certifying officer.
- The certificate bears the signature, name, address and official
position of the certifying officer in clear lettering and, where
appropriate the qualification of the officer.
- Wherever possible, the officer should sign, stamp and complete any
manuscript portions in a colour of ink which does not readily photocopy,
i.e., colour other than black.
- The certificate bears the date on which the certificate was signed
and issued and, where appropriate, the time for which the certificate
will remain valid.
- No portion of the certificate is left blank, so that it can be
completed by some person other than the officer.
- When analysis of samples of a consignment is required, ensure that if
not sampled by the certifying officer, the sampling is carried out by an
authorised person and not by the exporter; that each consignment is
appropriately sampled; and, that the samples derive from the consignment
to be exported.
- No officer should be involved in the issuing of a certificate which
relates to a consignment in which the official may have a financial gain
Criteria for Health Certificates
In general, certificates should contain essential information that meets
the requirements of the importing country and the information requested should
be no more than that which is necessary for the application of relevant
legislation and/or standards specified by such country,
The information contained in certificates should be kept simple and for
security and practical reasons be restricted to a single page that may utilise
the reverse side.
Regarding the contents and format of health certificates, the certifying
officer must ensure that, unless specified otherwise by the importing country,
the following information is included in a certificate:
- Technical information: These information pertain to the
certificate identification, as well as identification of the particular
|Details of the consignment, including identification and volume of the
product and lot/batch numbers of the foodstuffs; |
|Details of the exporter and, if required, the consignee in the
importing country; |
|Details regarding the mode and time of transport and product
|The identity of, and details on, the competent health authority
involved; and |
|Unique identification number of the certificate. |
- Statement of origin: The place of origin of a consignment may be
derived from the technical information provided in the certificate, for
example, the origin may be same country as the exporter. Where, however,
omission of the country of origin may lead to confusion or be misleading,
this information should be specifically declared.
- Health attestation: The certificate should include an attestation
by the competent health authority of the compliance of a consignment to the
relevant health requirements as specified by the importing country.
- Other Parties Involved in the Certification of Foodstuffs Destined for
To enable health authorities to assist prospective exporters regarding the
certification of consignments by the relevant authorities other than health, a
short description of the role of the National Department of Agriculture and
the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) regarding the matter in question
is included in the guideline.
7.1 National Department of Agriculture
Various Directorates of the Department are involved in the certification of
certain aspects of foodstuffs. The Directorate: Veterinary Public Health
attends to the export of fresh meat in bulk, chilled and frozen, including
poultry, as well as in some cases on the request of an importing country, to
animal products such as egg products. The certification includes the health
related compliance of the foodstuffs in question, as well as compliance to the
Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) related requirements of the relevant World
Trade Organisation agreements.
The Directorate: Plant Production, Health and Quality Control also attends
to certification related to SPS requirements of those foodstuffs covered by
the regulations published in terms of the Agricultural Products Standards Act,
1990 (Act 119 of 1990), as well as for the quality of the foodstuffs in
question for which regulations related to export standards have been
promulgated. The Directorate also appoint assignees to deal with the
certification of certain products destined for export, such as the Perishable
Products Export Control Board (PPECB) for, amongst others, fresh fruit. The
certification mentioned includes safety related aspects, such as pesticide
residues, and the relevant assignee is normally recognised or accredited by
the importing country.
7.2 South African Bureau of Standards (SABS)
Based on compulsory specifications published by the SABS in terms of the
Standard Act, 1993 (Act 29 of 1993), the Bureau attends to the certification
of the following foodstuffs destined for export:
|Canned fish, marine molluscs and crustaceans |
|Frozen prawns (shrimps), langoustines and crab |
|Frozen rock lobster |
|Frozen fish and marine molluscs |
|Canned meat |
|Smoked snoek |
Although not a government department or authority, the SABS is considered
to be the competent authority to certify consignments of the mentioned
foodstuffs and as such is also normally recognised or accredited by the
importing country for this purpose.
In conclusion, health authorities should where necessary assist exporters
by referring them to the relevant authority as described above for the
certification of the foodstuffs and/or aspects mentioned.
Role of the Codex Committee on Food Import and Export Inspection and
Certification Systems (CCFIECS)
The CCFIEICS is one of the world wide general committees of the Codex
Alimentarius Commission, a joint body of the FAO and WHO attending to the
formulation of standards for food moving in international trade. The Committee
attend to, amongst others, the principles for food import and export
inspection and certification.
During the drafting of these guidelines, an attempt was made to incorporate
the decisions of the Committee related to the certification of foodstuffs
destined for export into the document and any further developments in this
regard will be taken into account when up-dating the document.
Volume 1A, 1995.
Codex Alimentarius: Principles for Food Import and Export Inspection and
Department of Health Memorandum: Voedsel, Kosmetika en
Ontsmettingsmiddels: Riglyne ten opsigte van Uitvoersertifisering,
Pretoria, August 1991.
Report of the Fifth Session of the CCFIEICS, Codex Alimentarius
Commission, FAO/WHO, Rome, March 1997.
Report of the Sixth Session of the CCFEICS, Codex Alimentarius
Commission, FAO/WHO, Rome, March 1998.