Sales of expired food fined

Updated: 2011-10-15 07:25

By Zhou Wenting (China Daily)

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BEIJING - Authorities have determined that Wal-Mart and Carrefour stores in Changsha, capital of Hunan province, sold food products bearing altered production dates.

As a result, those businesses must surrender the suspect products and each pay a fine of 10,000 yuan ($1,568).

The city's market watchdog reported on Thursday that those punishments will be imposed even though the production dates in question were in fact altered by the suppliers of the food items.

The case arose after two Changsha residents, Huang Pingguo and Fang Zehai, told the Changsha Administration for Industry and Commerce on Aug 29 that frozen food they had bought from a Wal-Mart in the city's Yuhua district and from a Carrefour in the Furong district bore two different production dates, the later of which fell six months after the first.

"We pulled all of the products that are of the same brand off the shelves immediately and checked all of the prepackaged food in the store. None of it gave us similar concerns," said a regional public-relations officer for Wal-Mart in Changsha, who declined to be identified.

A representative of the Carrefour also said workers inspected the store's remaining stock of the suspect brands and found no instances of dual production dates.

"But we removed all of the products of that batch from our shelves, and we won't cooperate with that supplier anymore," said a customer service manager at the Furong store surnamed He.

Both Wal-Mart and Carrefour said the case had prompted them to post recall notices in their stores toward the end of August but that no customers have responded by coming in to exchange a product or obtain a refund.

Neither supermarket said it had seen dual-production dates on any of the food packages it had received from suppliers.

"We examined the supplier's certificates and opened every box to check the products' sell-by dates," He said. "If we had found that the dates had been reprinted, we would have definitely rejected them."

Food packaging experts said food manufacturers, suppliers and supermarkets are all likely to blame in the case.

"Manufacturers sometimes have accumulated certain products in warehouses," said Dong Jinshi, executive vice-president of the International Food Packaging Association.

"The cost of changing the date is much lower than discarding expired products. Besides that, some supermarket counters are rented by independent sellers, and the supermarket may not be responsible for the behavior of the people who work for those sellers."

Dong added suppliers are more likely to break laws when they are dealing with frozen or fresh food. Manufacturers, he explained, refuse to take such products back, which forces retailers to bear the loss if they go bad.

Qiu Baochang, head of the lawyer group of the China Consumers' Association, said it is not rare for food products to have "prolonged shelf lives".

"There have been customers who have bought milk that was produced on the day after tomorrow or a food product that has expired but was stamped with a new label."