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.