The sale of expired goods is very common on the island, many times we have purchased items with no expiry date or items are placed on sale just days before the expiration date. This is very frequent and several reports are made by consumers to respective health officials of the Bureau of Standards.
It is no surprise to find quite a number of expired products on the shelves of some stores on the island, but the problem is that the situation is not being rectified which has allowed these shop owners to put the health of consumers at risk without any repercussions.
Many local businesses in the island have the tendency of selling expired products at half price or simply removing the expiration date and selling it for the regular price. Businesses should be aware that it is an offense to break the laws under Chapter 31 of the Public Laws of Belize, to have on sale unwholesome food for public consumption. Businesses are taken to court when problems of this nature persist or when the offense is repetitive.
So what does it take to have a business inspected for selling expired products? The answer is easy, simply call the public health inspector or leave a written complaint at her office. A complaint to the Town Council is also sufficient as they pass on the message to the Public health Inspector.
In speaking with Mrs. Lisa Tillett, Public Health Inspector of San Pedro Town and Caye Caulker Village, she explained that inspections of businesses are carried out once every six months but if other complaints are made to her she carries out inspections. One of the main reasons that inspections are carried out in such a manner is because there isn’t enough man power to carry out more inspections throughout the year.
Mrs. Tillet also stated that once products are expired and caught on shelves in a store the products become the property of the Ministry of Health. Businesses are then charged for the proper disposal of these items which consist of transportation to the mainland and cost of destruction at the dumpsite.
Consumers are asked to remain vigilant when buying goods especially if they seem damaged, near expiry or that have expired and are being sold at reduced prices. Also check that price tags are not placed on top of the expiration date of a product. Be extremely cautious when items are being sold without a product label containing the expiry date or if food items are being sold out of its original packaging, especially since items are not intended for retail sale.
The following are some food safety tips which can help you when doing your grocery shopping:
Shelf life - Shelf Life is that length of time that food, drinks, medicine and other perishable items are given before they are considered unsuitable for sale or consumption. Shelf life is different from expiration date; the former relates to food quality, the latter to food safety. A product that has passed its shelf life might still be safe, but quality is no longer guaranteed.
Best before - Best before or best by dates appear on a wide range of frozen, dried, tinned and other foods. These dates are only advisory and refer to the quality of the product, in contrast with use by dates, which indicate that the product is no longer safe to consume after the specified date. Foods that have a best before date are usually safe to eat after the date has passed, although they are likely to have deteriorated either in flavor, texture, appearance or nutrition.
Use by - Generally, foods that have a use by date written on the packaging must not be eaten after the specified date. This is because such foods usually go bad quickly and may be injurious to health if spoiled. It is also important to follow storage instructions carefully for these foods (for example, product must be refrigerated).
Sell by / Display until - These dates are intended to help keep track of the stock in stores. Food that has passed its sell by or display until date, but is still within its use by / best before will still be edible, assuming it has been stored correctly. Don't buy the product after this date. This is the "expiration date." Most stores will rotate stock by moving the products with the earliest dates to the front of shelving units, which allows them to be sold first and saving them from having to be either marked down or thrown away, both of which contribute to a loss of profit.
Expiration Date - The actual term "Expiration Date" refers to the last date a food should be eaten or used. Last means last -- proceed at your own risk.
Guidelines on how long some food products are good.
* Refrigerated steaks and roasts should be used within three to four days after purchase.
* Ground meats, fresh poultry and raw fish should be used within one to two days after purchase.
* Milk, cream, cottage cheese and cream cheese are good for a week after opening.
* Hard cheeses that are tightly wrapped are good for two to three months.
* Eggs are good for three to four weeks. Keep them refrigerated.
* Cooked or uncooked vegetables are good in the refrigerator for three to five days.
* Bread, cake and cookies (or anything made from a batter with yeast or wheat) should be used within a week to avoid mold.
* Baked goods will last longer (two weeks) if refrigerated.
* Leftover chicken, gravy, sauce, chicken or tuna salads and turkey pies are only good for one to two days.
* Mustard, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce and other condiments should be used within a year of opening the container.
* Mayonnaise, once opened, is good for two months.
* Open bottles of salad dressing are good for three months.
* Ketchup, jams, jelly and peanut butter are good for six months. If you cannot remember when a food was placed in the refrigerator, throw it out.
Many people do keep their food longer than the above guidelines. If you keep your food longer, make sure you check it each time to see that it has not turned moldy, slimy, stinky, rancid or otherwise rotten. Always check the food BEFORE you taste it.
So remember if you have any complaints be sure to pass them on to Mrs. Tillett at 226-2555 or 605-6495.