If you buy dairy, a fruit drink or bottled water on the street and eagerly tip it back to quench your thirst in this scorching heat, be warned you might have just consumed an expired product.
Unscrupulous vendors are selling expired products on the streets and at kombi ranks. These traders are believed to be sourcing expired drinks from supermarkets through internal links. Once purchased, the vendors then erase the original sell by dates, and re-stamp them with a newer date, giving the products an extended, fake shelf-life.
Rudolf Kachepera (46) who once bought a re-stamped bottle of fruit juice said the practice is rampant and likely to affect more people especially with Christmas a few weeks away. “I was surprised that in some cases you can buy a drink for 50 cents when it should cost $1.00. Or you find the printed ‘best before’ date is outrageously far ahead, or sometimes no date at all,” he said.
He said that he vividly remembers one incident when a customer had an altercation with a vendor over the irregular colour of a drink. The vendor tried to claim the drink looked different because it was highly concentrated.
Some vendors who sell expired products claim that they order the drinks from supermarkets in the city. “We don’t manufacture drinks, we source them from retail shops,”one CBD- based vendor said.
Meanwhile, Denford Mutashu, president of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers says their policy is very clear that all expired products should be destroyed right away or returned to suppliers. “The fact that most vendors’ prices are so low is an indication that they could have procured them using unorthodox means,” he said.
He added that the other scenario is that when a retailer decides to dump expired products without destroying them, vendors visit the dumpsite and retrieve the products to resell in the streets. He said that unfortunately you could not eliminate the all the bad apples in the sector, and urged consumers to make a report should they come across such incidences.
Expired products frequently for resale include fruit juice drinks, dairy produce drinks, bottled water, and polony.
Mutashu urged consumers to buy from bona fide retailers rather than from nomadic vendors so that in the case of any anomalies, they can always go back and lodge a complaint.
Bright Manyerenyere, Branch Manager at a leading drink manufacturer* in Harare says his company has a clear return policy and all products which have reached their ‘sell by dates’ are recalled from the supermarkets for safe disposal. “This sort of thing rarely happens with our products. We have a solid network that makes sure that no expired or near-expiring product is sold to the public. We are very serious about that,” he said.
He added that their dairy-containing drinks products have a shelf-life of four weeks and that under no circumstances can they be sold after the expiry date.
Another senior company official said another possibility is that vendors might be using empty containers they pick up from bins bearing a reputable company’s name and then refill them with fake juice which they then sell to the public.
According to the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ), every customer has the right to safety and to be protected from products, production processes and services which are hazardous to health or life.
The CCZ added that consumers have a responsibility to check ‘sell by’ dates and other product details and as well as get receipts for purchases in case there are problems with the product and it has to be returned.
* company name withheld
Image: a vendor on Harare streets
Image credit: Carron Tambala