Can a supermarket stock products after the “best before” date and leave it to the discretion of consumers to buy it or not? Who should be held responsible when a shopper falls ill after consuming food sold in the supermarket? These are not dicey questions open for individual interpretations. The State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission in Chennai recently came up with unambiguous answers to these questions, while giving relief to an aggrieved consumer. Holding a popular supermarket chain and two suppliers responsible for the complainant suffering a gastronomical disorder after eating some spoiled German dates from a packet picked off the shelf, the commission imposed a total fine of `2.63 lakh.
The supermarket had tried to wriggle out by blaming it on two companies that imported and supplied the dates. It also sought to argue that the term “best before” was not synonymous with “expiry” even after it was revealed that the importer had pasted another label on top of the original date, which was extended by 26 months. The incident should be a wake-up call for the authorities designated to monitor the functioning of supermarkets and more importantly health and pharmaceutical products.
Luckily, the consumer who ate the dated dates survived the gastritis by coughing up `44,000 to a hospital. But it could not be the case with some patients taking medicines after the expiry date as they may not live to tell their tale. In fact, in a country like India rarely do we find discerning consumers checking the expiry date on food products and medicines. At times, even shopkeepers confuse customers saying it is not harmful to consume food products after the “best before” date. So, it is imperative that authorities do periodic physical checks to curb the selling of products past their expiry date in stores and also check tampering of expiry date, besides creating an awareness on the issue. For, the level of consumption of packaged food has gone much higher than the level of awareness on the health hazards that come with the neatly packed stuff.