Friday, 18 May 2012

I want a date

A couple of weeks ago we had a complaint from a reader about the service she had received from a local cash and carry operation. This is what she said:
“In December 2011 I sent an employee to a cash and carry to purchase stock for my store including blended fruit juices. She didn't realize they had expired in November of 2011. The staff at the cash and carry hadn’t noticed that their products had expired a month before my employee bought them.

Now the cash and carry management are claiming we purchased these products before December 2011 but we have invoices to prove we bought them in December 2011. We have an account with them so they can go through all our purchases to find out if indeed we bought them before December.

Recently a customer came back to us with flour which had worms in it which we had bought from the same cash and carry and were reluctant to take it back. We purchased it from them on 17th April this year and the product expiry date was the 23rd May this year also.

This cash and carry doesn't want to take the responsibility of selling products that are not in good condition. Please assist me on this area because I can't be having losses on my part due to a wholesale not selling products in good condition. There is nothing I can do with expired products I can't sell them.”
Of course the cash and carry store is behaving disgracefully. They deserve a severe slapping from the authorities and also from their customers. Firstly they breached almost all of the Consumer Protection Regulations. The stuff they sold wasn’t fit for purpose, they are operating without suitable care and skill, they lied about the nature of the product, they refused a refund, the list of breaches seems endless. More importantly they are selling products that could be injurious to public health. They’ve breached the Food Control Act and the Public Health Regulations, they might even have breached parts of the Penal Code. They’ve also pissed off Consumer Watchdog. Bad move.

Our suggestion to the reader was to make it perfectly clear, in writing, that she expected a no-nonsense refund as soon as possible. More than that they deserve a visit from every possible authority in town.

Expiry dates are there for a reason. They’re there to protect consumers from products, mainly foodstuffs, that are no longer either safe or of suitable quality. They’re there on the products that really matter, the ones like meat, fish and dairy products that can kill you if they’ve been stored for too long.

Often you’ll see two dates, particularly on perishable foods. The packaging will show a “Sell By” date and also a “Use By” date. That’s because we don’t use most foods that we buy for a day or more after we get them home. The difference might be a couple of days with fish or meat, longer with something like yoghurt or cheese. Other products like rice and flour should last a lot longer.

While this is all very useful there are some downsides to all this labelling. In the UK for instance there is a growing pressure to actually remove some of these dates from certain foodstuffs because of their overuse. The problem has been the staggering amount of food that is wasted in the UK. According to a BBC report last year the average British household throws over P7,000 worth of food in the bin each year. The report states that “according to the advisory body Waste and Resources Action Programme, households can end up binning up to a quarter of their weekly food and drink purchases.”

Much of this, the authorities reason, is a result of a combination of the “Use By” dates displayed on the food and a decline in basic food knowledge amongst the British public. Fewer and fewer Brits know about food, about how it’s produced and even how to use it. It seems they also don’t know how to store it and whether something is edible or not. It’s also a product of the increasing concentration in the food industry on perfection. It’s almost impossible these days to find a tomato, an apple or a lemon that isn’t of a regular shape and size and free of blemishes.

The result of this is that consumers this ignorant see a tomato beginning to look slightly wrinkly and they fling it in the bin instead of thinking of soup or sauce.

I think the problem is that some of us have lost, or perhaps never had, our natural sense of whether food is good or not any more. Can we not sense whether an apple, a banana or a tomato is still OK to eat? Can’t we use our own common consumer sense?

Of course I’m not denying how important the dates on food can be. They really do potentially save our lives, probably save our health and certainly save us money. More of us should look at them when we buy things but we also need to be more self-sufficient when we’re buying food.

A celebration

I want to celebrate the Non Bank Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority, NBFIRA. They recently made it clear to the micro-lending industry that regulation had arrived. The lenders were obliged to register with NBFIRA and shape up their working practices. The lenders then complained that they hadn’t been given enough time, some even begged for another year. NBFIRA recently published their response. Put simply it said stop moaning, you’ve had years to sort yourselves out, you knew about these regulations ages ago and some of you have complied. Those of you who haven’t face a choice. Shape up or ship out.

Well done to NBFIRA.

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