Recently, the Vice President of the Republic, Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia led the Upper East Regional office of the National Disaster Management Organization (NADMO) to distribute some relief items such as mattresses, rice, powdered milk, cooking oil, etc to hundreds of persons who were victims of the flooding which occurred following the spillage of the Bagre Dam in Burkina Faso.
It was reported that unfortunately, some of the food items distributed had expired and some beneficiaries became ill after consuming the expired products. The Upper East regional office of NADMO claims they set aside the expired products at the NADMO warehouse for stock-taking by their internal auditor which was mistakenly added to items originally set out for distribution. Subsequently, some officials were sacked. This scandal to the name and office of the VP of the country would not have occurred if due diligence of checking the information provided on the labels of these products had been done.
A 2017 study of some table-top and small container stores in Kumasi revealed that about 80% of customers did not check the product information before purchase. Also, most locally manufactured consumables such as drinks, biscuits, shito, alata soaps, etc did not have any product information on their labels. In cases where product information was available, the information was either inadequate or not readable. Producing a well packaged product in terms of the structure containing the product and the labelling of the product with all needed and necessary information should be a priority for all manufacturers especially food manufacturing, distribution or processing industries. The needed and necessary product information that should be on the product labels include production dates, expiry date, product batch number, chemical contents, nutritional value etc. The consequences of the absence of product information especially the expiry dates are twofold. This situation leaves the consumer venerable to the consumption of expired food items with its attendant health effects such as watery stool, typhoid fever, severe vomiting, infections of the blood and in severe cases death. To the manufacturers of such food products, they risk losing big money and putting lives in danger.
Visibility of expiry dates on products should be of keen interest to the manufacturer as these dates should be made legible for easy seeing by the consumer. A common method food industry relies on to address the issue of expiry date management is the “First Expired, First Out” (FEFO) method, an alternative is the first-in, first-out (FIFO) inventory management. Simply, the items with the earliest expiry date should be sold first, hence used first. This method is essential for food companies working with perishable goods that have strict shelf life dates. Any serious food manufacturer, distributor or retailer concerned with the safety of consumer lives should be able to apply this method and this is applicable to NADMO. There are a number of FEFO integrated software that companies can acquire to help them with the expiry date management. They allow for reminders when items are close to expiration to allow for a faster distribution.
For food production companies especially, size and strategic positioning of expiry dates on packages is essential and they must make this very visible for even the least educated consumer. The holidays are approaching and consumers will start purchasing a lot of packaged and unpackaged food items to make for a memorable occasion. Consumers owe it to themselves to carefully check expiry dates before purchasing goods especially perishable food items. Consumers should look out for the following on whatever product especially consumables they purchase during this festive season.
- Whether the expiry dates of products are due or almost due.
- Whether products on sale have been duly certified by the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA)
The FDA should continue their unannounced checks of warehouses and check for expired products. The Authority should also continuously issue cautions to wholesalers and retailers to ensure that expired products are de-shelved and sent to the Authority for the necessary action to be taken. As consumers, we cannot totally count on manufacturers and distributors to heed this directive, therefore, we need to check the expiry dates of products when shopping. Expired consumables are not consumer-friendly and it behooves on us all to ensure that such products are removed from the market to prevent any possible harm caused as a result of use by a consumer.
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Written by A. Decardi-Nelson, Research Scientist, CSIR – Institute of Scientific and Technological Information, Accra