Friday 23 October 2009

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice
My wife bought expired purity baby porridge from Store X in Town X. After some days feeding the baby she realised that the baby was vomiting and having diarrhoea. She checked the packaging only to realise that the porridge had expired in July whereas she bought it in September.

She took the baby for medical treatment from food poisoning. We have got proof as in the package and the receipt.

When she approached Store X about the issue at the end of September they checked their shelves and realised that they were selling expired porridge.

The first manager then offered to compensate P17 for the porridge but said he could not cover the medical expenses. He told my wife that he will call her so that she can fill in some insurance claim forms, but he never called.

The second manager, a lady is denying responsibility saying we should deal with the first manager. The problem is that every time my wife goes looking he won’t be around and the second manager says my wife should keep on coming.

What can we do?

[Consumer Watchdog note: We haven’t given the name of the store or even the town as we haven’t had a chance to contact the store at this stage. Nevertheless we believe that this story is sufficiently important to be reported.]

This is scandalous. If the details you’ve given us are true then the life of your baby was put at risk by this store.

Expiry dates are there for a purpose. They are there to protect our lives, health and welfare. They are also required by law. The Labelling of Prepackaged Foods Regulations say:

“No person shall … import, distribute, sell or offer for sale, any food … whose expiry date has lapsed”.

The Regulations then explain the penalties that a store manager or owner can face if they flout them. This bit is worth quoting in full (because it’s funny!). Anyone who has defied the Regulations is liable:
“(a) for a first offence, to a fine of P1 000 and to imprisonment for 3 months, and where the offence is a continuing offence, to an additional fine of P500 and imprisonment for one month for each day that the offence continues; and (b) for a second or subsequent offence, to a fine of, P5000 and to imprisonment for 6 months, and where the offence is a continuing offence, to an additional fine of P2 000 and imprisonment for two months for each day on which the offence continues”.

In other words whoever was responsible for selling you expired baby food can end up in prison for a long time and can be fined staggering amounts of money. Isn’t that a wonderful thought?

Well, you might think, maybe the store will argue that we consumers have a moral obligation to check the expiry dates ourselves when we buy things? Yes, perhaps in an ideal world that’s true but let’s get real. In our busy lives we don’t have the time to check every little thing we buy. We have a right to assume that stores obey the law. In any event, the law is simple. It doesn’t say that consumer must do this, it says store must do so. It’s as simple as that.

Decent, law-abiding, respectful stores do this anyway. They check the expiry dates regularly and they take things off the shelves and throw them away. The really smart stores will take things off the shelves perhaps the day before the expiry date and sell them at a discount. That way they get rid of stock they won’t be able to sell in a few days and we consumers get a bargain so long as we can eat it quickly.

Meanwhile, the issue of expiry dates is one that is causing some disruption around the world. In the UK, for instance, the Government is apparently considering modifying the requirement for all goods to have expiry dates. It seems that the unfortunate Brits can’t tell the difference any more between a rotten apple and a fresh one so they are throwing away truly vast quantities of perfectly edible food just because it expired yesterday. It’s estimated that the total amount of food thrown away by the Western World every day is about the same as the amount needed to feed the entire world’s starving.

However, there’s a world of difference between a slightly imperfect apple and poisonous baby food.

You can rest assured that we will be contacting the store in question and demanding an explanation from them. When they read this, and they know who they are, they have a simple decision to make. They can APOLOGISE for their INSULTING offer of P17 for the poisonous porridge and they can give serious consideration to whether they want to lose all their customers when they are named and shamed, have their store go bankrupt when they get fined and perhaps even spend some time in prison.

It’s up to them.

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