Product labelling, directory scammers and minimum spend rules — Wendy Knowler’s 'watch-outs of the week'

14 October 2022 - 14:12
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Food that has previously been frozen may not be labelled as 'fresh' on supermarket shelves. Stock photo.
Food that has previously been frozen may not be labelled as 'fresh' on supermarket shelves. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/katrinshine

In this weekly segment of bite-sized chunks of useful information, consumer journalist Wendy Knowler summarises news you can use:

It may be sold in a fridge, but it can’t be labelled 'fresh' if it’s spent time in a freezer

Why is it a bad idea to refreeze food that’s thawed? Freezing does not kill bacteria; it only prevents the microbes from multiplying. So thawed food will have some bacteria that can multiply at room temperature, meaning that if the food is refrozen, there will be an increase in bacterial count by the time it is thawed again.

That’s why SA's regulations relating to the labelling and advertising of foods, commonly referred to as R146, stipulate:: “Food products that were frozen and then thawed for subsequent sale shall not shall not be labelled 'fresh' and shall indicate the words 'PREVIOUSLY FROZEN' on the label of pre-packaged foods in bold upper-case letters.

And: “In the case of cooked or partly cooked frozen food products which have been thawed for subsequent sale, such products shall be accompanied by a notice on which the words “Previously frozen — do not refreeze”, appear legibly in immediate proximity to such products and in clear view of the customer.”

Reader Kathy wasn’t aware of the regulation, but when she bought two packs of “Fresh Gnocchi” from Woolworths recently, she didn’t expect to read “"NOT SUITABLE FOR HOME FREEZING. PREVIOUSLY FROZEN” on the back of the pack.

That she only read that when defrosting those pasta packs had her writing to the retailer: “Surely this label should be visible on the front of the package, and how can it be 'Fresh Gnocchi' if it was previously frozen?”

Woolworths’ response to Kathy was surprising and disconcerting: “It is standard protocol to have freezing instructions on the back of [the] pack and as the gnocchi is refrigerated it is classified as fresh.” Not a word that it was previously frozen.

But the retailer conceded its labelling error when I took up the case. That “fresh” gnocchi, as well as a fresh spaghetti pack, both imported from Italy, should not have been labelled fresh, the retailer said.

“The incorrect word ‘fresh’ is being removed from the packaging of both imported pasta products, as soon as possible,” I was told. “Please accept our apology for this oversight.”

Kathy needs the apology for being fobbed off with an inappropriate response. And they need to reimagine those “Previously frozen — do not refreeze” notices, too.

The business directory scam is still claiming victims — lots of them

I’ve been issuing warnings about the “business directory scam” for seven years but, sadly, the scammers are still catching many small businesses across South Africa.

They target medical practices, service stations, guest houses, couriers, and beauty salons, by phone, asking them for their e-mail address to send them a form.

“We just need you to fill in your details to confirm the listing,” they say. “It’s free.”

But that form includes a block of tiny, barely legible print which commits the business to paying a year’s subscription to an obscure online business — in full, upfront.

If they fail to pay, they receive demands from a debt collection agency for payment of about R15,000.

If they still don’t pay, the demands and threats become dire, including blacklisting and: “The sheriff is coming to attach your assets.”

There have been investigations and some prosecutions of guilty parties by the Council for Debt Collectors (CDC), including one calling themselves ITC Summons, a name clearly designed to instil fear in their victims. ITC Summons was recently deregistered by the CDC after being found guilty of a series of illegal practices.

But the scammers continue to bully their victims into paying, using that name, which is having a huge effect on the real ITC.

Herman Putter, the CEO of ITC Credit Bureau, told me recently that the ITC Summons/white pages scam had picked up pace in the past few months. “I am fielding a lot of e-mails from angry companies that don’t know it’s a scam,” he said.

He responds to every one himself to get the word out that ITC has nothing to do with those threats, and to urge the businesses not to pay.

“I’ve contacted the CIPC — the government’s Companies and Intellectual Property Commission — but they are throwing their hands in the air, saying they are 'not able' to assist even though the companies are still registered.

“Meanwhile, every day citizens trying to carve their way in this economy and regulatory environment are getting fleeced.”

THE ADVICE: If you’re being harassed, don’t pay. No matter how dire the threats, they will never follow up. If you get a call about your directory listing, disengage immediately. They have to call to get your e-mail address because all they have is your phone number, sourced from a legitimate directory. And always read the small print.

Can a retailer impose a minimum spend?

John of Joburg e-mailed me recently: “There is a shop near me which sells small hardware goods like nuts and bolts. They have recently introduced a policy stating a minimum R100 sale on cash and card sales.

“I recently went there to purchase three large bolts which came to about R35 and given the choice of either paying R100 for them or buy other products to make up the R100. I took twice the number of bolts than I needed which still didn’t come to R100 but I paid anyway as there was nothing else I needed. Surely forcing customers to pay a minimum of R100 cannot be legal?”

The banks forbid merchants to impose a minimum spend on credit or debit cards. What the shop owners are trying to do is make all sales worth their bank fees, but that’s a transgression of their merchant’s agreement with the bank. As is charging 5% extra when people pay by card.

On top of that, the Consumer Protection Act’s section 23 states that “a supplier must not require a consumer to pay a price for any goods or services higher than the displayed price for those goods or services”. That applies to card and cash payments.

My advice to John was to boycott that store — it may be convenient, but is that worth the mistreatment? Surely not?

 GET IN TOUCH: You can contact Wendy Knowler for advice with your consumer issues via e-mail: or on Twitter: @wendyknowler.

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