As a means of reducing the infection rate of coronavirus in Rivers State, the state government shut down major markets amongst other restrictions. The government, however, kept superstores open, making them the primary place where residents can get groceries and other items.
A PREMIUM TIMES’ investigation has revealed that the health of people who purchase groceries from these superstores may be at risk as some of them are openly selling expired goods.
Marketsquare is among the five biggest superstores in Rivers State. It has seven outlets across the state. Our investigation revealed that this superstore was still selling goods several days after they were past their expiry dates and manipulating the prices of some of its products.
On June 2, this reporter went to the popular MarketSquare at Ada George Road, in Port Harcourt, the capital city of the state, to buy groceries. Behind the deep fridge used for storing ice cream, she saw an A$ paper with the inscription “Discount Price boldly written on it. Also written on the paper were the original and new prices of the products the paper was affixed to. But as she picked some of the discounted products, she discovered that some of the products on display were expired.
For instance, the expiry date of “Unik Baby Soap, Sweet Angel” was May 26, 2020, five days before this reported visited the superstore.
Yamama Soy Sauce was another product on the discounted shelf. The product was going to expire the next day. The price of the product had already been slashed to N100. When this reporter returned to the store five days later, it had been taken off the discount shelf. However, another product had taken its place – Ossat Natural Oil Moisture Mist. The label on the product indicated that it would expire in June 2020. Not only was this product sold to the reporter, but it was also sold at a much more expensive price. On the discounted shelf the price tag on the product was N900 but this reporter was charged N2,350.
Timeless Super Stores
Another superstore that stocked and sold expired goods was Timeless Super Store. When this reporter visited the Timeless Super Store’s outlet on NTA/Mgbouba Road closed to Obiri-Ikwere Roundabout, Port Harcourt, she found some expired product on its discount shelf as well.
Among the products on display was a batch of expired Yamama Soy Sauce. Just like the batch of the same product found at MarketSquare, the expiration date on the product was June 3 but the item was still up for sale for N100 five days after.
The reporter noticed another expired product – Spice Supreme Poultry Seasoning was being sold for N530. The expiry date on the product was June 4, 2020. The reporter returned to the store on June 9 and Spice Supreme Poultry Seasoning was yet to be taken off the discount shelf.
“You pick this from the slashed stand right?” the cashier asked. When the reporter admitted yes, she only told the reporter that the Yamama Soy sauce has been slashed from N1,400 to N1,100.
On June 26, this reporter visited another outlet of Timeless Superstore on Ada George Road. The store was selling the following expired products: Silka Body Lotion, Purity Baby Cereal when had expired four days earlier, and Nestle Cerelac with an expiration date of June 2020. The reporter bought the Purity Baby Cereal and the Nestle Cerelac. The cashier at the checkout counter did not utter a word about the expired products.
On July 14, three weeks after this reporter bought the expired products from the store, she returned to the store and one of the products – Nestle Cerelac – was still being sold to unsuspecting customers.
While the reporter was at the store, she saw officials of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, (FCCPC) carrying out what appeared to be a routine check. The officials later took some goods from the store and put in their car. This reporter could not confirm if the goods carted away by the officials were expired or not. But after the FCCPC officials left, the expired Nestle Cerelac was still on the shelf and was sold to her.
Expiry and best before dates
According to the United State Food and Drug Administration(USFDA) website, ‘a product’s shelf life generally means the length of time you can expect a product to look and act as expected and stay safe for use.’ A product’s expiry date or ‘best-before’ date is usually determined by the shelf life of that product.
In a 2018 opinion article for PREMIUM TIMES, Kayode Ojewale, noted that there is a difference between the expiry dates and best-before dates, although they are used interchangeably by manufacturing company to convey a date when a product is at its peak performance or no longer fit to consume.
“While Expiry dates show the last day that the product is expected to be used or consumed, the best-before date indicates that as from that date, the product’s freshness along with its quality is no longer guaranteed,”. he wrote.
“The length of time varies depending on the type of product, how it is used and how it is stored. Personal care products, cosmetics, daily needs, foods, beverages, drugs, toiletries and other consumables and perishables have varying shelf lives based on product content, raw material quality and sanitary conditions.”
Health implications of consuming expired products
Every product has a period of effectiveness and once the window has expired, then it potentially becomes poisonous to you, the potency will reduce and will not be as effective as it should have been, said Udeme Georgewill, a Pharmacologist
Mr Georgewill, the acting head of the Department of Pharmacology, College of Health Sciences, University of Port Harcourt, said expired cosmetic products can cause skin rashes and other irritations.
“Health is personal and there is a reason we have expiry dates. It is important before you pick up any product, ensure you look at both the Manufacturing and expiry date. And try to follow the manufacturer advice as it relates to storage”, Mr Georgewill said.
In a study published in the European Scientific Journal in 2012 by Hatim Ahmmed, and Somiya Mohammed, two associate professors at the University of Bahri, Sudan, the risk of food-borne diseases increases after the expiration date, especially if the storage conditions are less than optimal.
The study further suggested that it is very important to inform consumers about what they should know before stocking their fridges and cupboard, which include the Best Before and expiration date
MarketSquare and Timeless react
When asked why it was selling expired products, the manager of MarketSquare on Ada George Road, who simply identified himself a Raphael, denied that the store was selling expired goods.
He explained that products placed on a discount shelf were products nearing their expiration dates and that customers are usually informed that the products are close to their expiration dates.
Contrary to the findings of this reporter, the manager said when an item’s expiration date is June, and there is no specific date, it means the product will expire anytime in June, and that such products are usually taken off the shelf before June.
Mr Raphael further explained that the store does not sell any product that is at least six months to its expiration date.
“Generally, people know any product that is on markdown If it is not on promo, it is close to expiring date.
“We have people that go round the shelves to check for expiry date. When they come in the morning, they raise alarm on any product that wants to expire,” he said.
When asked why the store still sold Ossat Natural Oil Moisture for N2,350 despite informing customers that the price had been cut to N900, Raphael said that cashiers often do a tally of the price of the product at check out.
“When we slash the product down, the price is still the normal price but when you take it to the cashier, they will tally it and do a discount”, he said.
Similarly, the branch manager of Timeless Super Store on NTA/Mgbouba Road, Ifeanyi Okafor, denied knowledge of sales of expired products at the store. Mr Okafor said there are sales representatives whose job is to monitor the products and pull out products close to their expiration dates.
When confronted with the receipt and items purchased at the story, he said the sales representative in charge of the section will be fired.
“I am surprised to hear this. We have NAFDAC, ISON as well Consumers Protection Commission come here every day like they are going to their maternal home, so we can’t sell an expired product on the Slash point. Just go there now and see the product there. The person in charge of that section must be punished for trying to tarnish our name”, he said.
The reporter further asked the manager if consumers are informed on why the prices are slashed at the point of payment, Mr Okafor said informing the customers on the expiration of product depends on how free the cashier was at the time of payment, adding that, often, the cashiers are always busy attending to people.
Also, during the time the reporter made payment for the expired product, she happens to be the only one the cashier was attending to. The cashier only remembered to ask her where she picked the expired Yamama Soy sauce but didn’t inform her the product has expired and why the slashed from N1,400 to N1,100
“When you know a product of N7,000 and its now N3,000, all you need to do is to ask questions and we will tell you but when you don’t ask questions we believe you know it” Okafor responded on it
At Timeless at Ada George Road, Kingdom Sor-Tiwa, a supervisor, explained that the store put products that have about 60 days to their expiration dates on the discount shelf.
“It is the customers’ decision to buy either the slashed goods or they go buy the goods with a longer date of expiration. Once the goods expire we bring the goods out from the slash sand”, he said.
Contrary to the reporter’s experience at the story, Mr Sor-Twa said customers are often told at the point of payment that products from the discount shelves are near their expiration dates.
When shown the receipts of the expired goods bought at the store, Mr Sor-Twa said: “I may not doubt the person that bought the expired product here, but I think due to negligence while removing the product they may have forgotten to remove it or hope to remove the expired product the day of the expiration date and forgot to do so”.
Stores without expired goods
Unlike the MarketSquare at Ada-George Road and Timelines at NTA/Mgbouba and Ada George, this reporter visited other superstores in Port Harcourt but couldn’t find expired goods displayed for sale.
The reporter visited Everyday Superstore opposite the Nigerian Television Authority office and the Everyday Superstore at Rumuigbo area and after searching for more than 30minutes searching for an expired product but could not find any.
Similarly, no expired product was found at Spar superstore close to the Rivers State Government House, one of the biggest retailers in the state.
Reports of the sales of expired products seem on the rise in the country. In 2018, the commission shut down Krispy Kreme in Lagos over the use of an expired product to produce doughnuts.
In early January 2020, FCCPC also sealed Panda Supermarket in Jabi, FCT, foreign supermarket for displaying and selling contraband and expired food items.
In a bid to ensure Nigerians are safe amid the pandemic, the FCCPC set up a COVID-19 taskforce committee across the states to inspect items in stores to ensure COVID-19 interruptions do not result in unsafe products.
In Rivers State, the South-South Zonal Coordinator of the Federal Competition and Consumers Protection Commission, Osi Johnson, told this reporter that since June the commission started her COVID19 search more than 20 superstores have been confiscated, adding that “very soon we will burn them. Although, the sellers are denying knowledge of the expired products”.
According to Mr Johnson, the law stipulates that goods near their date of expiration must be removed to a separate shelf with a slashed price and consumers must be informed why the price was slashed. “Failure by the company to do so, it means the company wants to deceive the consumers, and as such that requires the commission to confiscate the goods and prosecute the company”.
When this reporter showed Mr Johnson the expired products she had purchased from the stores, he explained: “Any product that states Best Before, it means the product must be consumed before the date on the product. And when the product states expire on a particular date, it means the product will expire on the stated date. And when a product states a particular month and year without a specific date that means the product must be used before the said month, but it sometimes depends on the goods too. There are some foreign products that the life span may require one to use on the said month. However, they are supposed to specify a date”.
He said consumers can return expired products to the stores where they were purchased and ask for a refund even after using said products.
We are going around now to supermarkets, shops including medicines shops to ensure expire product are not in the shops and market. We noticed that since this COVID-19 season, a lot of product might have expired and the manufacturers and producers would want to sell them out”, Mr Johnson said.
When reached for comments, the director-general of NAFDAC, Mojisola Adeyeye, she promised to reply the reporter’s questions via text messages, but after several calls and a reminder sent to he, she eventually answered her call but said she has “nothing to say”.
“First of all, I don’t have anything to say to a Journalist now, am in the middle of something but I can write something for you. I have just seen your text message and I am in the middle of something”.
Mrs Adeyeye never replied to the reporter. The reporter sent a reminder via text message some days after but the NAFDAC boss did not respond.
With Funding support from Mac-Arthur Foundation, this report is supported by Accountability Lab, Nigeria as part of the 2020 Accountability Incubator Programme.