A Checkers store in Cape Town has left a bitter taste in the mouth of a consumer after he saw raw marinated chicken on the floor in the deli.
This stomach-turning experience took place at the Checkers outlet in Bayside Mall in Table View.
The consumer, who wants to remain anonymous, was so appalled by what he saw that he snapped an image to capture the shocking discovery.
He says nothing indicated to him that an accident may have occurred because no sign was put up and there was no rush to pick up the chicken from the floor.
"I stood in the queue waiting to be assisted ... there were three customers in front of me and two behind me. For this whole time the chicken was just laying on the floor.
"Then a woman came from the back and packed the chicken in a white container. It seemed very normal. She was so relaxed."
He said what looked like the manager watched on as the employee packed over the chicken to the container without even assuring customers that there is no need to worry.
Health24 checked in with the Shoprite Checkers group and handed over the image.
Sarita van Wyk, spokesperson for the retailer, said Checkers views the perception created by the photograph in a serious light.
"The supermarket group regards food safety and hygiene in its stores of utmost importance and therefore our stores adhere to stringently monitored food safety hygiene and product handling requirements to ensure that food products prepared on the premises remain fresh and safe to eat at all times."
She said an accident had indeed taken place that resulted in the chicken falling on the floor and assured Health24 that the retailer is already in the process of a thorough investigation into the incident.
"According to findings in our preliminary investigation the chicken that the customer saw on the floor had fallen out of the griller due to it being overloaded and improperly stacked. It was placed in the white container to be removed and wasted as per procedure. The container with the contaminated chicken should have been removed from the area immediately," said van Wyk.
"Our investigation continues and appropriate action will be taken once completed. Disciplinary action is already being scheduled on the issue of improperly stacking the griller which led to the chicken dropping onto the floor."
Dr Gunnar Sigge, head of department for food science at Stellenbosch University, told Health24 that eating contaminated food can cause food poisoning.
He explained that floors can be a source of a great variety of microorganisms, as these are brought in on the shoes of any one working in that area. "This large variety of possible microbes, thus also makes it very difficult to predict what the dangers are. Nevertheless, there are definite dangers of eating food off such floors."
The different forms of food poisoning that could be contracted could range from very mild symptoms to very severe cases, said Sigge. "This would depend not only on the type of microbe, but also on the immune system of the consumer."
Health24 resident doctor, Dr Heidi Van Deventer, said the treatment for food poisoning is to treat the symptoms of the disease – such as diarrhoea, vomiting and subsequent dehydration.
"This is very serious in children as well as grownups and very often one needs to be hospitalised to treat the dehydration, which is life threatening," she said.
One step forward and two steps back
Operational gaps occur within every organisation, according to FoodSure, a verification company that also does independent store auditing, product testing and staff training for the manufacturing and retail market.
"Companies spend so much time and resources to build brand reputations and consumer trust and one small operational gap, in this case staff, derails this brand mission," FoodSure managing director Amanda Rogaly told Health24.
"Sadly the biggest gap is in specialised staff training with staff that are unaware of the magnitude of their poor decisions and how their individual roles affect the brand reputation and bottom line results."
She said Foodsure believes that staff training should be of the highest priority. "When managing all steps in a production and food control chain, staff should be made aware of the importance of their tasks no matter how small; and how they contribute holistically to the brand."
In 2013, a University of Stellenbosch study found that popular supermarkets including Pick n Pay, Shoprite, Fruit and Veg City, Woolworths and Spar had been stocking wrongly labelled meat products.
The study revealed that nearly 60% of 139 products tested contained ingredients which were not listed on their labels. These included water buffalo, donkey and goat meat present in some processed foods.
This sparked widespread concern among consumers leading to the Department of Trade and Industry ramping up measures to strengthen meat labelling products.