Do you ever look at the expiry dates of products?

Last week, police impounded several cartons of counterfeit products including mineral water, gins and spirits from a 32-year old resident of Kimironko. However, efforts to eliminate fake products from the market ought to go on as many others go unnoticed despite manufacturers putting in place safety measures to avoid duplication. However, much as Rwanda Bureau of Standards and the Police continue to crackdown on counterfeits, the biggest worry is that very few consumers take time to scrutinise the quality of goods they buy from shops and supermarkets and their dates of expiry.
Experts say soap, vaseline and lotions are not good for one’s skin if they have expired
Experts say soap, vaseline and lotions are not good for one’s skin if they have expired

Last week, police impounded several cartons of counterfeit products including mineral water, gins and spirits from a 32-year old resident of Kimironko.

However, efforts to eliminate fake products from the market ought to go on as many others go unnoticed despite manufacturers putting in place safety measures to avoid duplication.

However, much as Rwanda Bureau of Standards and the Police continue to crackdown on counterfeits, the biggest worry is that very few consumers take time to scrutinise the quality of goods they buy from shops and supermarkets and their dates of expiry.

Why you should check the expiry labels

Christine Murebwayire, a nutritionist at Kibagaba Hospital, advises: “When it comes to foodstuffs, nutrition is very important and expiry dates are indicative of safety and nutritional quality of products. It is risky to consume unhealthy food products. That’s why expired foods must be dumped because they may be toxic.”

Janet Umwari, a supermarket attendant in Kimironko, concurs with Murebwayire. “Expiry dates of products are very important. Good products must have clear expiry labels while those that are close or past their expiry dates are normally unfit for human consumption.”

Murebwayire, however, warns that while people usually rush for size than quality, it can be counterproductive. “Care should be taken whenever it comes to food items as regards their expiry date. For example dairy products such as milk when contaminated with fermentative pathogens may yield expansion in the containers.”

She says one should not be fooled by a product’s change in size (expansion) because it is usually indicative of gas formation from microbial organisms. 

“Bulging of canned products such as meat, fish is very dangerous and this can occur even before expiry,” she adds.

Umwari adds that healthcare products such as soap and vaselines can turn out be dangerous to someone’s life if they are not critically examined. 

“Even without going into detailed analyses, these products will exhibit changes as they tend towards expiry and with our huge stock, we may not notice everything but a keen customer will,” Umwari says, adding that the printed dates on the product are one of the many ways through which a manufacturer communicates to the consumer about safety. 

Health regulations and expiry dates

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says there’s no prohibition to the sale of foods (except for infants) past their expiry date.

Dr Erhard Dufatanye, a general practitioner at Kanombe Military Hospital, Paediatric section, says: “The quality of infant formulae should always be at its best. Because babies’ foods contain nutrients in high proportions, microorganisms attack them rapidly and that is why they should be as fresh as possible.”

However, the FDA does not require food firms to place “expired by”, “use by” or “best before” labels on food products. It is at the discretion of the manufacturer to put or ignore such important information.

Are expiry dates a wastage of time, resources and money?

A 2013 report by the Natural Resource Defence Council (NRDC) and Harvard says: “Expiration dates are in need of some serious myth-busting because they’re leading us to waste money and throw out perfectly good food, along with all of the resources that went into growing it.”

“Phrases like ‘sell by’, ’use by’, and ‘best before’ are poorly regulated, misinterpreted and leading to a false confidence in food safety. “Best before” and “use by” dates are intended for consumers, but they are often just a manufacturer’s estimate of a date after which food will no longer be at peak quality; not an accurate date of spoiling or an indication that food is unsafe although consumers have no way of knowing how these “sell by” and “use by” dates have been defined,” the report adds.

After the “use by” or “best” date has passed, you may start to notice gradual changes in the unopened product’s texture, colour, or flavour. But as long as you’ve been storing the unopened item properly, you can generally consume it beyond this date. 

Umwari also explains that: “Sell-by indications on the package are usually found on perishables like meat, seafood, poultry and milk. This date is our guide to know how long we can display these items.”

Murebwayire adds that one should buy the product while the sell-by date still stands.

“But you can still store it at home for some time beyond that date, as long as you follow safe storage procedures. Fresh milk for instance, that has been continuously refrigerated will usually remain drinkable for an extra week after the “sell by” date on the package. You can store beef in your refrigerator for more two days after purchases, even if the sell-by date expires during that time,” she reveals.

Although uncommon, “expires on” warnings are usually used on infant formula and some baby foods. According to Food and Drug Administration, these are the only products that should strictly be used before expiration as indicated by the manufacturer. 

Checking the “best before” and “expiry date” labels on foods, from milk and cheese to bread and meats, is one of the first things consumers should do before throwing them in the shopping carts.

It is no guarantee that a product well labelled with the ‘best-before date’ will be fresh or have the necessary nutritional value.  However, it is important to look at all information displayed on the package.

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