Food Lover's Market roasted for selling chicken past use-by date
The chicken Tony Botes bought from Food Lover's Market on Sunday was already roasting in the oven for the family’s lunch when he noticed the use-by date on the packaging was two days earlier.
“I was shocked to see that the original label, stating that the fresh whole chicken had been packed on October 3, with a use-by date of October 10, had been covered by another label which stated “Packed on 07.10.19”.
“This is disgraceful and quite possibly illegal!” he posted on Facebook.
It is indeed illegal to tamper with any date mark, and while it is legal to sell shelf-stable foods beyond their “best before” dates, SA’s food-labelling regulations make it illegal to sell perishable food products past their “use by” date because of the associated health risks.
Botes paid R81 for the 1.2kg chicken at the Food Lover's Market branch at Hillfox Value Centre in Roodepoort.
Responding, Food Lover's Market’s group legal adviser, Mirella Gastaldi, acknowledged that the store had sold Botes a chicken which was two days past its use-by date, and that the packed date on the store’s label contradicted the original one placed on the chicken by the supplier.
She blamed “poor stock rotation” for that, “as opposed to any tampering with the date marks on the product, or an intention to extend the shelf life of the product”.
Gastaldi denied that the store label had been placed on top of the third-party supplier’s original label to conceal it.
“This particular chicken product is delivered to our stores by the supplier already packed with a white rectangular label reflecting a packed date and use-by date applied on the front of the package under the shrink wrap,” she said. “Once the product is received at store level, our merchandising team prints a scale label reflecting the price of the product and the packed date.
“This scale label - which does not and cannot reflect a use-by date - is then applied to the product just below the supplier’s white rectangular label.
“This is a control mechanism to prevent a use-by date that exceeds the supplier’s use-by date being applied to such a product at store level,” she said. “We acknowledge that the packed date reflected on our scale label did not accord with the supplier’s packed date.”
Gastaldi said: “We have determined that this is due to a system error that prevents store merchandisers from inputting the supplier’s packed date. In short, when a store merchandiser prints a scale label, the packed date automatically defaults to the date that the scale label is printed.
“We acknowledge that this creates confusion on the part of our customers and our national operations director has already put together a task team to rectify this system error.”
It is an especially misleading system error, given that the store label is much larger and more prominent on the pack than the supplier’s label, and thus very likely to be taken by consumers as the day the product was packed by the supplier, rather than the date the store printed a price label.
Regarding Botes’s allegation that the second label was placed on top of the first, Gastaldi said it was very difficult for the company to respond to that allegation in the absence of proof - Botes photographed the packaging after it had been removed from the chicken.
“However, we can confirm that after receiving TimesLIVE’s enquiry, our Hillfox butchery manager personally went through every chicken product on shelf and could not find a single chicken where our scale label covered the supplier’s rectangular label,” she said.
“If the scale label on the chicken that Mr Botes purchased did indeed cover the supplier’s label, this was due to human error as opposed to any intention on our part to extend the shelf life of the product.
“This is borne out by the fact that no reference was made on our scale label to a use-by date, nor did the packed date reflected on the scale label extend beyond the supplier’s use-by date of October 10.”
The company was satisfied that there was no intentional extension of the shelf life of the product, Gastaldi said.
“We do, however, fully acknowledge that at the time Mr Botes purchased the chicken, it was two days past its expiry date.
“Our butchery manager will be contacting him to apologise and make the necessary arrangements to provide him with either a refund or a replacement in respect of the expired chicken.
“He will also be carrying out refresher training with our Hillfox butchery team on stock rotation, to ensure that expired products are not made available for sale.”