Fishy 'sell-by' date at Checkers

10 September 2018 - 13:19

As the “expired” food controversy was raging in South Africa last week‚ a Checkers employee apparently took it upon himself to extend the safety-critical “sell-by” date on packs of fish.

And he did a sloppy job of it‚ too.

“I noticed the fresh hake fillets packaging had two labels stuck on top of each other‚” said Lee-Ann Higgs‚ who had gone to the Checkers in Bryanston Shopping Centre‚ Johannesburg‚ on Thursday to buy fish.

“When I peeled back the label I noticed that the new label on top had a new shelf life‚ two days longer than the original one.”

It is illegal‚ in terms of South Africa’s food-labelling regulations‚ to alter or remove any date mark‚ and it’s also illegal to sell food beyond its “use-by” date‚ because of the health risk that poses to consumers.

The regulations do not specify the use of “sell-by” dates‚ but they are used by supermarkets as the date by which they must remove such food from their fridges. Customers typically consume these products within a day or two‚ having stored them in their own fridges.

Ironically‚ the recent looting and raiding of foreign shopkeepers selling “expired” food in Soweto involved shelf-stable food such as mielie meal‚ rice and tinned goods‚ and even if some of it was past its “best-before” date‚ it is not illegal to do so‚ as those dates are an indication of quality and have nothing to do with safety.

Higgs took photos of the dual “sell-by” dates on the fish as evidence of the date-tampering and posted them on social media.

“Within an hour I got a call from a Checkers representative saying that they’d discovered other fish products had been found to have new‚ false ‘sell-by’ dates added to the original ones‚ all of which were removed from sale.

“But why is the store not taking full responsibility for what happened‚ instead of blaming it on the person who physically did the re-labelling of the fish?” she asked TimesLIVE.

“What is in it for the individual employee?”

The supermarket giant offered her a R250 voucher‚ which she declined.

Responding‚ Shoprite said it had a “zero-tolerance” policy with regard to tampering with the “expiry dates” on food products.

“The employee’s action in Checkers Bryanston is viewed in a very serious light as it is an outright transgression of our business standards and disciplinary steps are being taken‚” the retailer said.

“All employees undergo detailed training regarding labelling and food-safety practices‚ and these modules and the specific employee’s training schedule are being relooked at.”

The employee in question only joined the group three months ago.

Asked why Checkers put only a “sell-by” date on its products and not a “use-by” date as well‚ the retailer said: “It is not viable for a retailer to predict the durability of a highly perishable product‚ such as fresh fish‚ by using an indicator such as ‘use-by’ after the item leaves its environment. Therefore‚ we have elected to only apply the ‘sell-by’ date to ensure that food safety is protected.”

GET IN TOUCH: You can contact Wendy Knowler for advice with your consumer issues via email: consumer@knowler.co.za or on Twitter: @wendyknowler.

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