Friday 2 August 2013

When labels matter

Labels matter. I know they’re a bit boring but they really do. Life would genuinely be better if more people read more labels and more people actually understood what the labels said. That’s because labels are the unsung heroes in consumer affairs. Labels can save your money, keep you healthy and even save your life.

A consumer recently got in touch saying this:
"I am writing this as a concerned consumer and citizen. A few months ago my fiancé and i were blessed with a beautiful baby girl you could imagine the joy we felt. The baby is now 4 months old.

Just yesterday my fiancé went into a pharmacy at Game City to buy some baby products and only to find they were running a buy 1 get 1 on some baby products, InfaCare Baby Formula to be exact. She was so excited and bought 1 x 1.8kg InfaCare Baby Formula and got the other for free. Her joy was cut short after she noticed the product expires on the 8th August 2013 which is in 2 weeks. There is no way possible my baby could drink that or even finish it before the date so this morning she is set to return the products and be refunded if they can't exchange. You can imagine how frustrated we were and glad we noticed the expiry date before feeding the baby.

Considering how sensitive infants are at what they eat, these products shouldn’t be on the shelves to start with, which can pose serious health risks to our babies and even worse.

I am therefore appealing to your office to assist or direct me to those who can. In doing so this will help those who are still to buy the product and might not pay attention to the dates thus putting their babies lives at risk."
Like I said, most labels are boring. Only nerds like me read labels. But sometimes labels might save your life. Or might save the life of a precious new-born baby.

The facts are simple. This baby formula was due to expire on the 8th August, just two weeks later. Each box contained enough formula to last about a month. The first box would have expired halfway through being used and the second, free box would have expired before even being opened. This assumes that the boxes wouldn't have sat on a shelf for a few weeks, purchased because they were a bargain.

Let’s be perfectly clear. This isn't talcum powder, baby oil or nappies. It's baby milk formula, the baby's only source of nutrition. Even though the risk is very slight, it's a baby's health at stake. Maybe even its life.

We went to the pharmacy to have a look, just to double check and the boxes were still on display. We couldn't find any expiring on 8th August but we found several expiring on the 13th August.

When we asked to see the manager she was perfectly pleasant and understood our concerns but said she could only take action once she had cleared it with her Head Office. Unfortunately that’s not good enough.

Let me say this again. It's baby formula. It's not an inert, risk-free product. It's a product that directly influences the health of babies. Waiting for guidance from Head Office is simply not good enough. While they’re fooling around having meetings boxes of this formula are being purchased and stored in peoples cupboards.

The pharmacy needed to get these things off the shelf immediately, not after a lengthy conversation and consultation with someone far away.

We wondered if this was typical. Maybe all stores do the same thing, holding stock on shelves that will expire within the consumption period. As a check we looked for exactly the same product in other stores. Not so. Other stores had the same baby formula but often with more than a year to go before expiry. That’s the good news. The bad news is that as I write this the pharmacy still have stock on their shelves that expire on 2nd October this year. That’s better but remember it’s a two for one offer. If you buy two of these boxes and start using it to feed your new-born baby on the day I’m writing this, the second box will be exhausted on October 6th, 4 days after it expires.

This particular baby is lucky to have parents that are nerdy enough and caring enough to notice these things and who understand how important they are and also neighbourly enough to try and spread the word to you and me.

This is a good example of when labelling is important. Clearly I’m not going to persuade everyone to read every label on every package of everything they buy and none of us have the time or energy to do that. But what we SHOULD be doing is reading the labels on things that matter, the foodstuffs that are likely to harm us. Don’t worry too much about bottles of tomato sauce, cans of beans or boxes of teabags. Don’t worry too much about fresh products like bread, fruit and vegetables that you can examine, feel and smell before you buy them. Don’t worry about the things that pose little threat to your well-being.

Instead focus on the things that COULD kill you like any type of meat, seafood and dairy products. Despite what some will say pork isn’t the high-risk meat, it’s chicken. Focus on anything you’re going to give to someone who is at high risk like the elderly, the unwell, those with a compromised immune system or the new-born. That’s when you read everything the label says.

Actually reading labels isn’t nerdy, not unless it’s only nerds who care about themselves and their babies. We should all become label-reading nerds.

Update: You can see here how the manufacturer of the formula, Aspen Pharmacare responded. They were quick. I don't blame them, they just make the stuff, they don't keep in warehouses for ages before it's sold. The pharmacy, Clicks, weren't quite as fast but you can see their response here.

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