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Blog Posted in avatar   J.N. Paquet's Blog

Tesco And The 'Best-Before' Date Dilemma

By J.N. Paquet
Posted Feb 28, 2012 in Business
On its website, the multinational retailer Tesco claims it is “always trying to make (its customers) shop easier.” However, on Friday afternoon, one of its customers witnessed a practice that could have meant serious health problems for her young toddler. Far from the ease and help promised by the third-largest retailer in the world, whose advertisements famously says “Every Little Helps.”
Marine Le Nestour, a young mother of one living in South London, was doing her weekly shopping with her 1-year-old son Felix at her local Tesco, located within the Surrey Quays Shopping Centre, in Canada Water, when she found a brick of milk with a ‘Best-before’ date indicating 13 February 2012. Friday being 17 February 2012, she was astonished – to say the least – to find that the item was still being sold in store. Furthermore, the milk was intended to babies. It was a SMA follow-on milk brick (for babies aged 6 months+, stage 2), the kind of milk that complements the weaning diet.
“It’s actually the third time it happens to me at Tesco,” Marine explains. “The first time, I had bought tainted butter. I complained to their customer service and they gave me a voucher. Another time, it was about yogurts. I was seven months pregnant at the time and the employee who I spoke to totally refused to call a manager and just treated me like nothing. She simply bullied me; so much so that I ended up crying in the supermarket.”
This time, probably still a bit traumatised by the latter experience with Tesco staff, she decided to avoid any contact with the employees. Instead she took a picture of the brick, published it on Facebook to share her dismay with her friends, put the brick on the Customer service desk for them to see and just left them to deal with it.
“The design on the carton looked a bit old,” she recalls. “It was different from the other bricks and damaged. I wonder if they didn’t just find it in their stocks and decided to put it on shelves anyway…”
How many other parents may have bought similar bricks from that shelf, and then given it to their little ones, without noticing the expired ‘Best-before’ date? Isn’t there a health issue somewhere there? If customers certainly have to keep an eye on the products’ BBDs, retailers surely have a duty to ensure such products aren’t on their store shelves when the BBDs have expired, haven’t they?
In May 2011, a mother from Stockton, Cleveland, had already publically criticised Tesco for selling her baby milk formula (SMA again!!!) that was more than four months out of date, that she claimed had resulted in her four-week-old baby being violently sick after drinking it.
Well, in September 2011, the Food Standards Agency clarified the situation by issuing a press-release stating that “’Best-before’ dates relate to food quality, including taste, texture and appearance. Eating food past its ‘best-before’ date is unlikely to be harmful. ‘Use by’ date are the most important date for people to consider, as these relate to food safety. While it is an offence to sell food after the ‘use by’ date, retailers can, with the exception of eggs, sell products after the ‘best-before’ date, providing it is safe to eat.”
On its website, the NHS agrees with the FSA, and also states that “’best-before’ dates are about quality, not safety. When the date is passed, it doesn’t mean that the food will be harmful, but it might begin to lose its flavour and texture. [...] (However) the best-before date will only be accurate if the food is stored according to the instructions on the label, such as ‘store in a cool dry place’ or ‘keep in the fridge once opened’.”
So, according to health experts, the selling of expired ‘Best-before’ date items isn’t of a particular health concern. Such items are even sold daily at specialised stores like Approved Food, a British company established in 2009 that only sells food past its best-before date.
Therefore, unsurprisingly, under the Food Labelling Regulations 1996, it isn’t an offence to sell food passed its ‘Best-before’ date.
However, given the look of the battered brick – literally damaged on all sides – one could hardly think the milk inside (remember this is baby milk we are talking about here!) would ever qualify to feature in the Tesco Finest range, the company’s premium brand of food and drink. And this is actually where an offence may be committed under Section 14 of the Food Safety Act 1990 for the law says that “any person who sells to the purchaser’s prejudice any food which is not of the nature or substance or quality demanded by the purchaser shall be guilty of an offence.” In Marine Le Nestour’s example, the baby milk may not be of the “quality (she) demanded”. Tesco is, therefore, responsible for ensuring that food or drink sold has not deteriorated beyond the point acceptable to the consumer.
Conclusion: if the selling of expired ‘Best-before’ date items isn’t of a particular health concern, it is anyway a criminal offence to sell food not of the “quality demanded” by the customers. In a nutshell, in a supermarket like anywhere else, customers should always pay attention to the ‘Best-before’ and ‘Use-by’ dates on food and drinks, and quite importantly remember that they have rights and that retailers have duties.
Read the fully updated article here:
- SMA Nutrition.
- The Daily Mail.
- Food Standards Agency.
- NHS.

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