Requirements for Equipment and Other Food Contact Surfaces on Food Premises

Equipment and other facilities, also referred to as food contact surfaces in this article, used for food handling on food premises should be of such a design that it is hygienic and easy-to-clean to protect food products from contamination.

Before we continue, let’s first look at what is considered facilities.

Facilities mean any –

apparatus, appliance, equipment, implement, storage space, working surface or object used during food handling.

The accumulation of contaminants are not allowed in or on facilities. Cleaning facilities before and after food comes in contact with it is essential.

There are specific requirements (laws, regulations and standards) for facilities on food premises. Let’s look at the general basic requirements.

This article refers to the requirements of Regulation (Clause) 6 (STANDARDS AND REQUIREMENTS FOR FACILITIES ON FOOD PREMISES) of Regulation R638 of 2018, which governs the general hygiene requirements for food premises, the transport of food and related matters in South Africa.

This article also provides additional information for clarity.

Please read our Disclaimers and Disclosures page. We do not provide legal advice.

Food Contact Surfaces

Food contact surfaces are surfaces that come in direct contact with food. Minimum legal requirements and specific conditions apply to avoid food contamination. It is considered one of the biggest threats to Food Safety.

Food contact surfaces

Food contact surfaces include the following:

  • Tables, counters, or other working surfaces.
  • Equipment.
  • Utensils.
  • Crockery.
  • Cutlery.
  • Basins.
  • Any other food contact surfaces.

Find more examples in this article: Examples of Food Contact Surfaces and the Important Role it Plays in Food Safety

Requirements for Food Contact Surfaces

Food contact surfaces must meet the following minimum legal requirements:

  • Made of smooth, rust-proof, non-toxic and non-absorbent material.
  • No open joints or seams.
  • No chips, splits, or cracks.
  • Must be clean before they are used for food handling.
  • Must be cleaned and washed before food comes into direct contact with it for the first time.
  • Must be cleaned and washed, as and when necessary, during or immediately after food processing.
  • Should NOT contain more than 100 viable micro-organisms per cm2 upon analysis. See the requirements for microbial testing below.
  • Should NOT contain the remains of cleaning materials or disinfectants, which may contaminate food.

What About Wooden Chopping Blocks, Cutting Boards and Utensils?

Wooden cutting board and utensils

Are you allowed to use wooden chopping blocks, cutting boards and utensils?

Yes, it is allowed according to Regulation R638. Always keep wooden items clean and free from any contaminants.

With that said, it is NOT recommended in the food industry and prohibited by some countries’ food laws.

Keep in mind wooden boards and utensils are porous. This makes them difficult to clean and dry. Instead, use non-porous boards and utensils made of plastic or more suitable materials.

Microbial Testing Requirements

  • The analysis of viable micro-organisms must be conducted by following acknowledged scientific microbiological methods of analysis.
  • You can only take samples using the swab technique prescribed in the Efficacy of Cleaning Plant, Equipment and UtensilsSANS 5763.

Single-use Items

Single-use items – straw and cup

Any items suitable for single use only must be stored under clean and hygienic conditions until used and cannot be used more than once.

Chilling, Cooling and Freezing Facilities

Facilities used for storage, display and transport of food products are diverse. The three main categories are equipment used for chilling, cooling and freezing.

It can range from your everyday household fridges and freezers to commercial chillers, walk-in coolers, refrigerators and freezers. Don’t forget the refrigerated trucks.

Commercial walk-in cooler
For example, commercial walk-in coolers

All chilling, cooling, or freezing facilities used during storage, display or transport of perishable food, must be fitted with a thermometer that always reflects the temperature inside that facility.

The thermometer must be in a condition and location where an unhampered accurate reading can be taken.

Portable fridge thermometer
Portable fridge thermometer

What if your fridge/freezer doesn’t have a thermometer?

Many small food businesses, particularly home-based food businesses, use household fridges and freezers not fitted with a thermometer.

In that case, you must buy a portable fridge/freezer thermometer.

Inspectors and auditors will look if thermometers are available in cooling, freezing and chilling facilities.

Regulation R638 does state that despite the above requirements, temperature monitoring may be done according to the best available method.

Heating Facilities

Heating facilities include any items or equipment used for the storage, display, or transport of heated perishable food. Heating facilities can also include hot-holding facilities.

One example of a heating / hot-holding facility is a display unit keeping hot ready-to-eat meals. These can be self-service units or where staff members serve food to customers.

Food hot holding unit
Food hot holding unit

All heating facilities used for the storage, display or transport of perishable food, must be fitted with a thermometer that reflects the heating temperature of the heating area concerned.

The thermometer must be in a condition and location where an unhampered accurate reading can be taken.

This is something an inspector will look for during an inspection of your food business.

Regulation R638 states that despite the above requirements, temperature monitoring may be done according to the best available method.

Equipment Used for the Heat Treatment of Milk in a Milk Processing Facility

Facilities used for the heat treatment of milk in a milk processing facility must be fitted with dial thermometers AND thermostats.

What is the difference between a thermometer and a thermostat?

  • A thermometer reflects / read temperature.
  • A thermostat regulates or determines the temperature.

Regulation R638 (Regulation 6.6) also states the following:

The dial thermometers and thermostats must be accurate to 0.5°C in respect of the entire given series of scales.

In addition to mechanical temperature and time regulators and alarms, such apparatus must have flow-regulating and flow-averting valves by which milk, not subjected to heat treatment, is automatically redirected to the balance tank.

Bulk Milk Tanks Used for the Sale of Milk on the Food Premises

Do you sell milk to your customers using a bulk milk tank on your premises? This is where the customer brings a container, or you provide a container that is filled on the premises.

This practice is not as prevalent as it used to be a couple of decades ago, but it’s still in use and regulated by law.


Here are the requirements for bulk milk tank equipment on food premises:

  • You need at least 2 bulk milk tanks on the premises to allow for alternating cleaning.
  • It is not allowed to add a new batch of milk to a tank still containing milk from a previous batch.
  • Copper, copper alloy or any other toxic material is not allowed in the design of bulk milk tank equipment that comes in contact with milk.
  • Must have a smooth finish free from open seams, cracks, or rust stains.
  • Constructed from stainless steel or similar material to ensure all surfaces that come in contact with the milk are accessible to promote proper washing and disinfection.
  • Containers, valves, pipes and any other equipment used during the operation of the bulk tank facility, which comes into direct contact with the milk, must be made of materials and designed to enable proper washing, disinfection and storage.
  • Have a drainage incline leading directly to the outlet point.
  • Fitted with an outlet pipe to allow liquid to drain from the tank.
  • Outlet pipes must be screw-threaded with a screw cap at the end.
  • The tank must have a stainless steel or equivalent material agitator to mix the milk in the tank thoroughly.
  • The tank must have a lid, where applicable, that closes and seals to protect the milk from contaminants (insects, dust, etc.).
  • Have a thermometer measuring the temperature of the milk accurately to the nearest 1°C.
  • The tank must cool the milk to 5°C and lower within 3 hours after receiving it and keep the milk at the required chilling temperature of 5°C and lower.
  • Install the tank at least 0.5 meters away from any wall, roof, or ceiling.
  • The tank must be insulated to protect the milk when no cooling takes place, for example, during a power failure. The milk in the tank should not increase by more than 3°C in 12 hours if the surrounding temperature is 32°C and above.
  • You can only store milk in a bulk milk tank. Nothing else!

Cleaning Requirements for Butchery Equipment

Any butchery equipment used on butchery premises, or any other premises must comply with specific cleaning requirements.

Annexure F of Regulation R638 list the following butchery equipment and their cleaning requirements:

  • Bandsaws
  • Tenderisers
  • Fillers
  • Mincers
  • Vacuum packing machines
Meat bandsaw
Meat bandsaw

If you use different equipment than listed above, a complete documented cleaning procedure must be in place, demonstrating the complete cleaning and dismantling process.

There are different cleaning methods for each item of butchery equipment, but the following are general requirements for all butchery equipment listed in Annexure F:

  • Clean butchery equipment at least once a day.
  • Cleaning detergents and disinfectants used for butchery equipment must be the National Regulator for Compulsory Specification’s (NRCS) registered detergents and disinfectants.
  • If the equipment needs a power supply to operate, disconnect the machine from the main power supply before cleaning starts.
  • Where applicable, use safety cleaning gloves to prevent injury.
  • Use hot water at 40°C to 60°C together with detergent to wash and scrub the equipment and all applicable parts. This process will clean the equipment from grime, grease and food particles.
  • After washing and scrubbing, rinse the equipment and applicable parts with clean water.
  • Mix a solution of hot water and disinfectant and wash again.
  • Rinse with clean water.

Refer to Annexure F of Regulation R638 for detailed cleaning requirements of each butchery equipment item.

Excellent video on how to clean your butchery equipment


It’s easy for equipment and other food contact surfaces used during food handling to become contaminated and accumulate contaminants.

Using the right equipment and facilities on your food premises will save you time, ensure Food Safety and take the burden off your food handlers.

There might be different legal requirements for different countries and regions globally, but most of the basics apply everywhere.

As a food handling business, what is your biggest challenge in relation to the topics discussed in this article?

Please leave us a comment in the comment section below if you have any questions, need more clarity, or would like to add your opinion.

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