As the holiday season approaches, shoppers are busy filling carts with groceries for festive meals, parties, and more. On product labels, consumers may come across several different terms, such as “best before,” “best if used by,” “sell by,” “freeze by” or “expired by.” The manufacturer provides the dates to give you an idea of how fresh the product is, and it is up to the merchant to ensure products that are past those dates are pulled off the shelves so that shoppers do not inadvertently purchase or consume food or products that are old or possibly spoiled.
The Mercer County Office of Consumer Affairs/Weights and Measures in the coming weeks will be making surprise visits to a variety of food sellers to randomly inspect expiration dates.
“‘Operation Pricing and Over the Counter’ (POTC) will have our Consumer Affairs Task Force making the rounds to ensure merchants are providing fresh and safe food to our Mercer County shoppers,” Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes announced. “The majority of food stores in Mercer County are attentive to expiration dates, but as an added layer, our inspectors will be out in the field on your behalf to identify sellers in violation.”
The task force will make unannounced visits Nov. 27-29. The Consumer Affairs arm will focus on checking expiration dates of over-the-counter medications; baby food and baby formula and more; it will check to see that pricing information is plainly marked or located at the point where the merchandise is stocked; and will check to see that a store’s refund policy is clearly posted. The Weights & Measures arm of the task force will inspect price code accuracy, including bar codes; and package weight accuracy. Violations will be reported to the appropriate authorities.
In most cases, a product that is slightly out of date is not going to cause harm, and was probably inadvertently left on the store shelf. Still, products out of date might not be best in terms of flavor or taste quality. It’s always best for the shopper to check dates so that you are getting the best value for your dollar, and to reach out to the county to report a violation.
The Mercer County Office of Consumer Affairs/Weights and Measures can be reached at 609-989-6671.
Photo caption: John Worth, foreground, chief of Mercer County Consumer Affairs/Weights & Measures, and Roman Gankiewicz, senior investigator, check expiration dates on baby food at a Mercer County supermarket.