Investigim.al publishes images of expired food products sold in some of the most popular supermarket in the capital. NFA: we cannot check the expiration dates of each product. Consumers’ Association: The expired products are found at any store; here they are the most dangerous to health
By Endrit Habilaj
Packaged food products sold in supermarkets constitute a serious threat to the health of consumers. The situation becomes even more dangerous when these products are consumed outside the expiration date. Such products that have passed the date of consummation are sold freely in some of the busiest supermarkets in the capital. Many customers lured by offers of lower prices and others being careless on checking the expiry date have become “prey” of consumption of expired food products that according to food safety specialists have dangerous effects on health. In some cases has resulted that the expiry date of food products has been forged, which makes it even more difficult to identify them as consumables or not from the buyer.
Taking into account the situation of the food products traded out of time consuming, investigim.al publishes images of some expired products marketed freely in some of the most popular supermarket in Tirana. You find them placed with other products on supermarket shelves and can buy them the same. The team of investigim.al journalists selected randomly some of the busiest supermarkets and after observation managed to find at least two cases of expired products. Although expiration deadline of these products had ended a few days, those were still in sale becoming thus a potential risk to the buyers. Investigim.al taped some of these products where there is clearly shown that the deadline of their consumption has terminated, while they continue to remain still on the shelves of the supermarkets that sell them.
Sales of food products in supermarkets that have exceeded expiry date is accepted by the National Food Authority (NFA). Representatives of this institution declared that a part of the food products that are imported from abroad are traded even after the expiry date. “In these markets, where perhaps due to the great care from staff and managers, rare and sporadic cases has been distinguished. More due to negligence, where because of large quantities of products they are not always well managed by the staff, “says an official representative of the NFA. According to him, inspectors try to verify every possible product, but in the case of food products sold in the supermarket verification is casual. “During the search in a Hypermarket, inspectors cannot check any beverage bottles, each chocolate, each packet of biscuits or any other product that is there. These supermarkets are considered with medium risk, because they are just sellers, while high risk is put primarily to manufacturers of those products of animal origin “, further stated NFA official.
A basic part of our country products is imported mainly from European Union countries but also from the region and in most cases are offered with a lower price. Citizens are more likely to buy food products at cheaper prices but without noticing that most of them have expired or are at the last days of the date of consumption. “Cases of expired products in Tirana are not frequent, but there were times when inspectors of National Food Authority have encountered products whose expiration date had ended. Given the high level of attendance, the fact that within these supermarkets are marketed products of animal origin, NFA performs inspections once in 6 or 9 months, depending on the schedule of inspections of NFA regional departments in the 12 regions”, explained further the official of National Food Authority.
The head of the Albanian Consumers’ Association, Islam Cani, says there are a number of expired products hazardous to health that do not have an expiration date which are sold not only in suburban small shops but also in major markets. “The concern of our customers beside the street market which has become a concern for them, recently there is also the risk of expired products found in markets and supermarkets in Tirana and throughout the country, especially those in remote mountainous areas,” says Cani. According to him, based on the complaints of citizens since 2013, stores, supermarkets and numerous sales points of dairy, meat etc. have expired products without expiration date, preserved and stored improperly. “Such products have been numerous especially the previous years, such as milk, sour cream without the label, fruit yogurt with expiration date, cheese pizza, cheese babies, butter, tomato sauce, compote, cans, mince meat with green color, smelly meat balls” said Cani for investigim.al.
Ermil Sharko, specialist at the Institute of Food Safety and Veterinary says that there are two categories for the expiry dates of food product, on the basis of which is determined whether the product should be marketed or not. “Food Safety Inspectorate specifies two categories of expiry date for food products. The first category is ‘Best Before’, where the storage period is 100% nutritional value. It means that the product has a date before the expiry date until when it is advisable to consume. The other category is ‘Sell by date’ which is the date of expiry and the product should be withdrawn from the market immediately“, explains Sharko. According to him, after the expiry date the food product loses all proteins and vitamins. “In Albania these two categories are often confused by traders, as supermarkets do not notify customers for the difference between the consumption of the product within the ‘Best Before’ and consumption within the ‘Sell by date’,” says the specialist.
Food safety specialist shows previous experience regarding the treatment of certain categories of products that can be launched in the market, but only in a controlled manner. This structure does not exist anymore, but Sharko suggests that professional evaluation of some products would enable their trading even after the expiry date. “In our institution existed the structure of evaluation for food products. This unit after collecting all the expired food products decided to re-launch in the market products that could be consumed even after the expiry date, ” says Ermil Sharko. In this way, according to him, it could be limited the falsification of the expiry date for food products by traders or speculators. “It somehow avoided the tendency of falsifying or manipulating labels with expiry dates, by giving traders the opportunity to continue again selling the expired food products. Our institution is constantly urging the government to restore the structure”, says Sharko.
In February this year, Police and National Food Authority discovered two warehouses within which there were at least 30 tons of packaged foods with their expiration date changed. For this flagrant violation of food safety the Police arrested the owners of stores who were suspected to throw into the market expired food products by changing their expiry date. Among the seized products were also foods consumed by children thus increasing the severity of the effect of products that were offered on the market with regular expiration date. “The recycling of these goods was undertaken only after falsifying expiry dates labels”, police said after the operation. But this is only one of the cases where food products endanger the life and health of Albanian customers. Another case highlighted by the NFA and the State Police was marked not long ago in the area called Bathore, on the outskirts of Tirana, where they discovered a workshop counterfeiting the expiry dates for food products. This illegal activity was discovered initially by the NFA, which in cooperation with the police blocked the first floor of a private house that was adapted as an environment for falsifying expiry dates of many food products of animal origin from which the risk is even higher. NFA in cooperation with the Police of Tirana seized hundreds of kilograms of expired food products whose expiry date would be falsified, as mozzarela, baby cheese, pasta etc. The company was fined with a large amount of money, while its activity was blocked and a criminal case against the leaders of the subject in question was initiated.
World Food Organization (WFO) states that any packaged food product during transport but also in trading points should be at a constant temperature of 18-22 degrees Celsius. If a food product is on sale after the expiry term, inside it starts increasing the carcinogen aflatoxin element. In February of this year, civil society held a protest which urged state institutions to take measures against the expired food products.
* This project is funded by the Small Grants Program of the Democracy Commission of U.S.A Embassy in Tirana. Opinions, findings, conclusions and recommendations expressed are those of the author / s and do not necessarily represent those of the Department of State
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