Thursday, November 6, 2014

Can retailers sell date expired foods? In some places they can!

In India the consumers are by now used to see the label declaration on each sealed food packet which gives him an idea regarding the nature of the content inside. World over labeling has become common with each country having its own set of rules. Invariably such labels are supposed to provide a plethora of information that include nutritional matrix, serving size, date of manufacture, weight/volume, identification batch number and date of expiry. In some countries date of expiry is substituted with "best before buy" or "best before use" or "best before sell" dates, obviously a matter of confusion to many consumers. As law abiding citizens most consumers throw the food away if the food packet remains unused at home after purchase beyond the "best before use" date. Though some argue that the food is still edible past the date indicated on the label, no one will be willing to risk potential health hazards, as perceived by them based on their limited understanding. There are instances when shops do not remove date expired foods from the shelves, unwittingly or deliberately, and some consumers without reading the contents pick such "date expired" food packs. While in India date expired food packets cannot be sold, attracting punishment for violation, there some countries or regions within a country where selling "date expired" foods is not a violation of prevailing law.  Here is a report on such contradictions in an enlightened country like the US where there is no legal bar on selling such foods in the market.

"The FDA does require dates on medicine and infant formula because it said it can't guarantee the effectiveness or safety of those items past their expiration date. But it does not prohibit stores from selling expired products; that's up to state and local officials. Since Tennessee is what's called a "no date state," it's not against the law for stores to sell products past their sell-by date. That's why we are not naming the stores where we found expired products. Still, the state's agriculture department said it makes frequent, unannounced inspections at stores. "All food prep areas within the building are our main priority, and then after that we're looking at the back storage of the facility. We're looking at the cleanliness of the warehouse area and we're also looking at the cleanliness and the equipment on the retail floor," said state food inspector, Patricia Szappanos-Hart. The state inspects stores that sell food at least twice a year. Those with a score below 70 are re-inspected. "We look at dates as well, but with Tennessee being a 'no date state,' if we find items, we do some spot checking during an inspection, if we do find items out of date, we would use it as a discussion point with a manager. But with not having legislation within the state, it's not something that we can enforce," Szappanos-Hart said."

It can be argued that consumers are wise enough to avoid buying "date expired" foods but can a responsible government leave it to the conscience of the industry not to stock and sell such foods? If so why is any law required at all for controlling the industry vis-a-vis consumer safety? Can the industry be trusted to adhere to a set of voluntary guidelines instead of a set of mandatory rules? Probably we will be treading on a dangerous path if the world tends to move in that direction. It is ideal if the industry can be truthful about the safety of a food packed and declare positively that it is unsafe beyond a certain date based on scientifically proved data. But this unlikely to happen because such data are not available on many products. More appropriately two dates can be given, one "best before use till" and the other "not safe for use beyond". Recent developments speak of apps and instruments that may be available to the retailer as well as the consumer soon to assess the safety of products without opening the pack and if they become main stream tools, it will be a great boon!


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