Expired, contaminated products: Killing Nigerians by instalments

Not everyone goes through the goods they buy, especially for the expiry dates. And for those who do, how certain are they about the state of these goods? ISIOMA MADIKE, in this report, looks at the hazards posed to consumers by this situation and other forms of consumer abuse

Chiffy Supermarket, located on Oduduwa Crescent, GRA, Ikeja, is in the news for the wrong reasons. The supermarket, which deals in diverse items such as beverages, foodstuffs, drinks, personal and home care products in wholesale and retail, was alleged to have been shortchanging its unsuspecting customers by selling expired products to them……CONTINUE READING

This allegation was made last week via a Facebook post by a concerned customer. In the viral video, the customer said he went to the store to buy toothpaste and saw that there were ones displayed in front of the shop and they indicated ‘for sale.’ “I asked them for the price and they said N250.

That answer jolted me because those are toothpastes that others sold for about N600 or N800 for a pack. So, I was wondering why they were selling them for N250. I lifted one of them up and I saw, ‘Best before December 2022’, so I queried them. But the attendant shouted at me that people were buying the toothpaste and if I didn’t want to buy it, I should leave it,” he had said. Before the viral Facebook post, some customers had had to stomach the wrong dealings, perhaps, because many of them felt they never had anybody to address their concerns.

One of them was quoted to have said she once purchased expired cookies unknowingly from the store but didn’t know who to complain to. Another had also said: “Chiffy is a store I have patronised for many years, and was disappointed that happened. Last December, I bought a pack of cookies but curiously checked the expiry date, which was November 2022. I quickly called the attention of the attendant, who apologised and asked me to pick from another set on display. That I did and that carried 2023 as its expiry date.

“I again raised the issue while I was making payment with the cashier, who again apologised. It caught my attention when I read from the Facebook page post of another customer that the same Chiffy was again caught stocking expired products.” Following the viral video, the Lagos State Consumer Protection Agency’s General Manager (LASCOPA), Afolabi Solebo, visited the supermarket to verify the information. “When we discovered that some of the items on display were indeed expired, I had to liaorder my agency’s enforcement team to confiscate them,” he said. Solebo observed while at the supermarket that the toothpaste and some other products in the store had no price tags and were all expired. “The dates found on them were discovered to have expired in August 2022, November 2022, and January 2023 and were being sold to unsuspecting members of the public.

In line with the THEMES agenda of Mr. Governor, such an act would not be tolerated in Lagos State,” he said. The GM explained that the action became necessary “in order to rid the state of all forms of unscrupulous and unfair trade practices and to further ensure the safety of consumers from the dangers of expired products which might lead to death without people knowing the cause.”

He however said that the matter is already before a court of competent jurisdiction while reiterating the fact that LASCOPA’s action was born out of the need to protect the interest of consumers against expired, hazardous and substandard products. One customer applauded the action of LASCOPA, saying that the management of the supermarket has been careless about the whole thing.

He added that the store may have taken advantage of the heavy patronage by customers due mainly to the relative low prices of its products. “I think we cannot but commend LASCOPA for acting and rising to the occasion,” the customer said. LASCOPA had, in the past, also shut down retail stores in many parts of Lagos for selling expired products. In October 2022, it reportedly sealed up Cynosure Associate Superstores on Ajao Estate for displaying expired products on its shelves. Bazaar Supermarket on Aromire Street, Ikeja, was closed down for the same reason in March 2021. It also sealed up a retail store in Ogba, Home Affairs Supermarket, In February 2022. However, Chiffy’s case is not an isolated one. Another customer, who identified herself simply as Abimbola, also shared her experience on Facebook recently.

In the viral video, she alleged that the Lasena table water she bought from a certain shop almost sent her and her baby to their early graves. She had said: “Let’s be careful and watch what we eat and drink these days. @lasenawater almost sent me and my baby to our early graves. The water is supposed to be one of the purest and it’s not cheap. I reached out to them and a certain Dr. Genevieve reached back and told me to do my worst after the initial guy who picked my call insulted me.” Similarly, Motunrayo came back from work on Monday, January 21, to meet her first child, Tobi, vomiting and complaining of a stomach ache. He was taken to the hospital for treatment and stayed indoors afterwards to properly recover.

“I remembered that Tobi had asked for one of the packets of Capri Sonne juice we had at home, which was purchased from a major supermarket the Saturday before that Monday. On taking the juice, he started to complain of tummy ache and almost immediately started to vomit without finishing the drink. Though, the stomach pains subsided almost immediately. “My younger sister took the packet away from him and noticed some black stuff on the straw and proceeded to cut open the pack. It was then she observed that the juice appeared whitish with an off look from what it should normally look like.

“We immediately kept the remaining packets left in the carton away and warned him not to take from the carton again. But when I got back that Monday and noticed that the pains had started again, I had to cut open the remaining left in the carton, and what we found out can only be imagined. We noticed biological matter, which looked like fungus in them. It was black, white and quite disgusting; it was, to say the least, poison,” Motunrayo recalled. In an almost similar situation, Ibrahim, who stays at Lagos Street, off Akilo Road in Ogba, returned from work with a headache.

He reached for his first aid box and thankfully there was a pair of tablets left in a sachet of paracetamol. He briskly pressed the tablets out of the sachet, but just before he put them into his mouth, he looked at the expiry date on the sachet… “the drug expired only yesterday.” Confused, he contemplated going ahead to take the drug. But, he thought of the consequences. Would deciding to take the paracetamol not be a fatal mistake or should he simply continue to suffer from the headache? This was Ibrahim’s dilemma. Many in his shoes would have faced that too. In a country like Nigeria, where many consumers are illiterate, they are likely to be susceptible to exploitation by dishonest dealers.

This may be why health experts often advise consumers against eating expired foods and have always advised to throw them away when they are past their shelf life. However, one way to know if a particular food is beyond its shelf life is to check the food label for a stamped date, usually with the inscription: “expiry date” or “best before”. But in Nigeria, this inscription means little or nothing as they have often been manipulated. Many dubious retailers have been caught many times in this act by the authorities concerned, though no concrete steps have ever been taken to put a stop to such. With this attitude, checking expiry date, at present, may not be a guarantee of safe product any longer. In most cases, the cartons and each individual pack of items would have months ahead as expiry dates when in actual fact such products have long been expired.

If one is very observant, the manipulation of the original expiry stamps could be detected. However, a list of different terms and what they mean have been provided by food health experts to further educate consumers on the appropriate thing to do. One of such terms is “Sell by” date. The labelling “sell by” tells the store how long to display the product for sale and advises customers to buy the products before this date. This is basically a guide for the retailer, so that the store knows when to remove the item from its shelf. This though is not mandatory because the issue is with the quality of the item (freshness, taste, and consistency) rather than whether it is on the verge of spoiling. According to experts, “sell by” date is the last day the item is at its highest level of quality, but it will still be edible for some time after. Another is “use by” date: After this date foods may be unsafe to eat even if they look fine, because the nutrients in the food may become unstable or a build-up of bacteria may occur.

This is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date is determined by the manufacturer of the product. Common “use by” foods include milk, meat, and vegetables. And then, the common one, “best before” date. This refers strictly to quality, not safety. This date is recommended for best flavour or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.

The “best before” date simply indicates that the product may lose some of its quality after this date. If one stores these foods properly, one can still expect them to retain their colour, taste, texture and flavour. Common “best before” foods include canned foods, cereals, biscuits, sauces, chocolate, sugar, flour and frozen foods. However, it is advised not to throw foods away just because they are past their “best before” dates. This only means that such foods are no longer at their peak of freshness. There is also a “guaranteed fresh” date. Though not too common, it usually refers to bakery items.

They will still be edible after the date, but will not be at peak freshness. However, to make sure food lasts until its date mark, it is important to follow storage instructions, such as “keep refrigerated” and “store in a cool, dark place”. Sometimes, heating the food can kill bacteria. But health officials are concerned by the increasing number of expired foods and medicines on sale in the country. “Doctors have raised serious concerns about the increasing number of people who get food-poisoning as a result of consuming such products,” said a woman who identified herself simply as Kafayat, a senior official in the Lagos State Ministry of Health. Reacting to the issue of expiry dates, the public relations officer of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Obiazikwor Christiana, said that NAFDAC only deals with regulated products.

These, according to her, include items such as drugs, cosmetics and medical devices. “For products we have two dates on them; the manufacturing date and the expiry dates; although there are also batch numbers on them. Expiry date means the date that the producer has advised users to discontinue using such products. This product is no longer safe for use after that day. And any consequence from the usage of that product, the producer is no longer liable for it. And that is why we advise people to read product labels very well so as to make sure that products they buy are not expired.

“Any product that has a manufacturing date without expiry date can never be approved by NAFDAC. So, it is even a way of identifying a good product. No product can last forever. Even garri that we use in our houses cannot be forever. Even yam, there is an extent you keep yam in the barn no matter how you want to preserve it. With time it will start shrinking and turn to something that you can no longer eat. These are even natural things not to talk of things that you use a preservative that has chemical components,” she said. In like manner, former director-general of the Consumer Protection Council (CPC), Mrs. Modupe Atoki, is irked by what she called the brazen attitude of businessmen, who capitalise on Nigerians’ low knowledge about their rights on consumables to cheat. “We consumers must take our destinies in our hands and go the extra mile to check the life span of what we consume. You are kings and you have the right to determine who gets your money. “If you see products that are near expiration, just don’t buy them. And when you don’t buy, they stay on the shelf and over time, those who put them on the shelf would be forced to remove them. Stop making billionaires out of unscrupulous and dubious businessmen, who go to other countries to bring products that are near expiring at unbelievable cheap prices into Nigeria,” Atoki advised. She said in her time, she discovered through a consumer survey conducted on the impact of the Council’s activities in Nigeria, that the level of consumers’ awareness of their rights and responsibilities was abysmally low. She said that over time, this lack of awareness has been exploited by some businesses to brazenly engage in all sorts of sharp practices that undermine the safety, comfort and economic interest of the consumers. She said: “In our reckoning, the issue of Best Before dates is crucial, owing to the grave risks and economic losses suffered by Nigerian consumers, who purchase products like foods, beverages, pharmaceutical drugs, batteries, tyres, paints and other items, without paying attention to their expiry dates. Apart from not taking seriously the need to constantly check the BB dates of products that we purchase, many Nigerians are still unaware of the fact that some non-edible products like paints, cosmetics, batteries and tyres also expire.” The Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) has also warned Nigerians not to buy goods and products without expiry date. Bottled Water (Labeling) Regulations, under the NAFDAC Act, made similar provisions in the cases of pre-packaged foods and bottled water respectively. Surprisingly, despite the indifference on the part of many Nigerians to report and or enforce product liability laws, particularly the violations of the legal requirement of expiry date labels in consumer products, Nigerian laws did not treat it with kid gloves. Paragraph 21 of the Prepackaged Food (Labeling) Regulations and Paragraph 16 of the Bottled Water (Labeling) Regulations, NAFDAC Act prescribes permanent or temporary prohibition from the importation, exportation, manufacture, distribution, sale of and use of the consumer items in each case, or in addition, a fine of N50,000 as penalty for contravention thereto. It is also an offence under Section 9 of the Consumer Protection Council Act stated above, for a manufacturer or distributor of a product to fail, on becoming aware after such a product has been placed on the market of any unforeseen hazard arising from the use of such product; and to notify the general public immediately of such risk or danger and cause to be withdrawn from the market such product.……CONTINUE READING