In today's economy, where every cent counts, you expect to get what you pay for. But this is not always the case because there are times when we go shopping and not even realize that we have purchased items that have already expired until it’s too late. And apparently this has become a problem because the Public Health Department is warning consumers to be on the lookout for outdated perishable products when they go food shopping. Reporter Maria Novelo took to the streets today to investigate this story and filed the following report.
Maria Novelo – Reporting
There’s a new reason for you to check your groceries a bit closer the next time you shop. Four out of 7 major shopping centers in Orange Walk have expired or nearing expiration dates on food items placed on their shelves. It’s an alarming statistic since we, as consumers, pay the full price for these items. So, how hard is it to find expired foods being sold around Orange Walk Town?
Today, we went undercover shopping. Take a look at this…. 6 month old milk in the cooler, out dated chicken patties, outdated LaLa strawberry yogurt and even 2 month old expired baby formula. Shoppers we spoke to say they are concerned and are disappointed that more monitoring of the products are not done.
But Public Health Inspector, Karel Heredia, says they carry out unannounced inspections quarterly every year.
“We carry out inspection to have healthier food being sold to the general public.”
Maria Novelo – Reporter
“Have you guys noted any offenders?”
“We don’t usually would say noted because we have many establishments that do have expired items on the shelves.”
Maria Novelo – Reporter
“I know there is a difference when it comes to best use by and expired, can you perhaps differentiate what that means?"
“When it comes to public health, best by or expiration date we consider it to be the same regardless if it going to be the quality or the texture or the expiration date of a certain item, whenever we are talking about public health best by and expiration date for us will be considered is no good.”
Of the places we visited, most of the expired goods are dairy products, canned goods and pantry items. Heredia says when these items are spotted, they ask the sellers to immediately pull it off the shelves.
“Anytime we find items that are not adequate for human consumption we take it away from them when it comes to can goods or dairy products we take it away from them, the only thing is that we can only take away things that are on the shelf, if things are on the bodega or behind the bodega then we cannot remove it because the public health laws only cover certain amount of ground which is only the ones from the shelves that we, which are displayed for human consumption that we could remove from the shelves. Whenever your purchase you should not purchase expired items but because of certain individuals that they do not care they tend to sell these expired items, whenever someone is selling something for human consumption it should be adequate and wholesome for the general public so the problem will be that people tend to sell expired items when they shouldn’t.”
And combating this problem will involve community participation.
“Everybody that goes and purchase any item and they see that it is either expired, blotted, dented or it shows signs that it is not good they should report it to the public health department, the only problem with this is that we Belizeans tend to patronize them and we constantly go and buy from different establishments and we see that they have expired items and yet continue buying form them when we should take it and report it to the public health department some of us are even satisfied that when we give it back they give us back the money.”
Three of the seven stores we visited are owned by Belizeans and are considered the major stores in town. We can safely tell you tonight that those three stores passed our test as they carried no expired products on their shelves. But, at the end of the day everything else is at the discretion of the seller and consumer.
Heredia says under the food and drugs act chapter 291, anyone selling food which is dangerous to health or not wholesome for human consumption is liable for legal action. These practices include expired items, filthy environments, and apply to food handlers who do not wear hair nets. In the event that a consumer does purchase an outdated item, most stores have return policies that allow for the exchange of goods.
The larger food retailers we contacted stated that with a receipt, they would offer a refund or exchange. The smaller, independent food sellers stated that they would not offer a refund; however, they would exchange the item.
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