Alert on sale of expired food

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 April, 2012, 12:00am


A packet of frozen chicken that was four months past its expiration date remained on sale at a small frozen meat shop.

The item was among 42 products past their expiration dates that were being sold at 19 shops. They were recently uncovered by Consumer Council workers, who posed as shoppers at 57 independent and chain grocery shops.

However, only one shop was prosecuted for selling food past its expiration date last year. In view of that, the council has urged the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department's Centre for Food Safety to step up its checks.

The council said grocery shops should better manage their produce and warned shopkeepers to check expiration dates with greater care.

Democratic Party lawmaker Fred Li Wah-ming said: 'It's outrageous. It just proves that the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department doesn't check stores enough, enabling retailers to sell [goods past their expiration dates] with one eye open and one eye closed.

'[The Consumer Council's] survey showed that there are possibly a lot of shops out there selling frozen food past their expiration dates, but the government prosecuted so few [of them]. It means that they are not monitoring the shops as much as they should.'

The survey also found 14 items with other labelling problems, including products with labels removed, expiration dates that were only partially visible, and even food that had been repackaged for sale. The council will pass its findings to the Centre for Food Safety, which is responsible for enforcing food labelling laws.

The centre says it checked 55,000 labels last year. Besides prosecuting the above-mentioned shop, the centre has pursued 24 prosecutions in cases where there were no expiration dates for food items.

Under the Public Health Ordinance, all food products must be marked with either a 'use by' or 'best before' date. But the law does not clearly state which of the two should be used for specific food items, rather leaving the decision to the discretion of producers. Products marked with a 'use by date' cannot be displayed for sale past the indicated date. Selling food that is unfit for consumption is also an offence, regardless of the expiration date.

A spokeswoman for supermarket store ParknShop said it had strict policies and procedures for workers to monitor product expiration dates regularly, and that its quality assurance department regularly conducted checks. In the event that customers buy items past their expiration date, ParknShop will arrange for refunds and replacements.

According to the Consumer Council, food prices increased last year, with prices of canned fish and butter rising the most - up 15 per cent on average from 2010.

Of the 12 main food categories, canned food and soup saw the highest average price rise, of 11.7 per cent, followed by pre-packaged bread and cakes at 9.9 per cent.


The price of dairy products rose this much last year

- Prices of household cleaning products dropped 1.9 per cent on average