The food industry in South Africa is regulated according to the General Hygiene Requirements for Food Premises and the Transport of Food, a set of guidelines published by the Department of Health (http://www.doh.gov.za/) in 1999, which stipulates how everything from milk bottlers to restaurateurs are meant to govern their chains of food handling. The document specifies the protective clothing that is to be worn by all food handlers, the standards of containers to be used, and protective measures to be taken with unprocessed foods.
Food producing companies are consistently monitored, and as such the state of both fresh and processed food in South African supermarkets is as good as you’re likely to find anywhere in the world.
While restaurants are also supposed to be held to these standards, in practice things are a little different. Establishments are generally required to have ISO (International Organization for Standardization) certification by the South African Bureau of Standards (https://www.sabs.co.za) for the HACCP (Hazard Analysis And Critical Control Point) system before they can start trading. However, apart from a once yearly renewal of certification, most restaurant managers relax their procedures as soon as health inspectors have done their annual inspection.
Franchised eateries tend to adhere more strictly to regulations than individual restaurants, as they’re more carefully monitored by their franchisors, but still aren’t much better. Nonetheless, blatant health violations are pretty rare, so adopting an ‘ignorance is bliss’ philosophy when eating in or out is a fairly safe approach, and helpful in avoiding hypochondria-induced stress disorders.
Many food brands haven’t fully penetrated the South African market, and you may have trouble finding some of your favorite sweets, soft drinks, breakfast cereals, and so forth. The upside is that South Africa is not without its own unique culinary attractions. Browsing the aisles of any South African supermarket, you’ll likely be exposed to the curries of the Cape Malays, the koeksisters, boerewors and biltong of the Afrikaners, and the mielie pap of the Xhosas. In the ‘Entertainment’ section I’ve included a list of local restaurants good for sampling local and more exotic African cuisine.
That said, the primarily western tastes of the majority of South Africans mean that most foreign food ingredients, from Asian pickling condiments to the latest Mediterranean oils and spices, are available if you just know where to look. In the following sections, I’ve provided the details of some of the best local delis and specialized grocers when it comes to seeking out that taste of whatever land you call home.