Are discounted foodstuffs fit for consumption?

The Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) is disturbed to learn that food products that may not be safe for consumption are being offered to customers at a discounted rate at a leading hypermarket in Penang. They are placed on a separate shelf under the banner heading “Reduced to Clear”.

Among the defects we noted were:

  • a tin of infant formula badly dented
  • canned fruits and a fizzy drink also badly dented
  • a flour mix packet and a packet of assorted biscuits, where the paper packaging was badly torn but resealed with cellophane tape
  • tin can labels torn
  • expiry dates either not available or obscured by the price tag
  • very dirty outer packaging
  • the cover from a tin containing potato chips missing — the product sold with merely the inner layer of aluminium foil intact.

Food in cans or tins that have been dented may not be safe to eat. If the dent is on any of the seams of the tin, either the top or the side seams, there is a chance that the seam is damaged, allowing microorganisms such as bacteria to enter and contaminate the contents. It is also possible that the elements or components from the can itself or the tin may leach into the food contents, thus posing a risk to consumers who ingest these food contents.

Products where the packaging is torn, dirty or missing should not be permitted for sale.

Section 13A(3) of the Food Act 1983 states: “Any person who prepares or sells any food whether manufactured or not that is enclosed in a sealed package and the package is damaged and can no longer ensure protection to its contents from contamination or deterioration, commits an offence and shall be liable, on conviction, to a fine not exceeding thirty thousand ringgit or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or to both.”

Section 35(1) of the Food Regulations 1985 states: “No person shall import, prepare or advertise for sale or sell any food contained in any damaged package or container.”

CAP calls on the Ministry of Health to take immediate and firm action against retailers and traders who sell food in containers or packaging that have been damaged, where the contents are most likely already unfit for human consumption.

The action taken by the Ministry should be highlighted in order to warn the public, as well as to act as a deterrent to repeat offences or other would-be offenders.

CAP also calls on the Ministry to also clarify the stand on food expiry dates.

Goods that have expired should definitely not be on sale. However, in addition, retailers trying to clear goods that are very near the expiry date should be made to highlight this fact very clearly.

Customers need to be actively informed that a product is near expiry so that they can be sure that they consume the food before the expiry date.

If a product near expiry is meant for multiple use, for example, a big tin of milk powder, where there is no realistic means of finishing the contents before the expiry date, by right this product should not be offered to customers.

Find out the truth about label claims and what are the hidden ingredients in baby foods in CAP's Baby Food Guide and the hidden hazards in food and how you can avoid them in Danger Foods