Fred Aminga @faminga
Sale of expired food products is fast emerging as a lucrative venture for unscrupulous merchants and poses serious threat if the vice is not dealt with.
Investigations by Business Hub reveal an intricate web of rogue importers and retailers have exploited lapses in the regulatory and enforcement regime to ply their trade.
Tuesday’s raid of godown in Kariobangi in Nairobi County was another incident in recent months that lifted the lid on the well co-ordinated operations of cartels repackaging expired foodstuff and later selling them to unsuspecting Kenyans.
The suspects were caught red-handed repacking rice into new bags bearing expiry dates ranging from June 2019 to 2021.
Had it not been for a hawk-eyed public who blew the whistle on the godown trading as Kimende Stores, the commodity would have been served in several homes countrywide. The godown is also suspected to have been repacking expired sugar and popcorns in new bags.
Business Hub met Sylvester Ogwoka who recounted how he feared for his health after consuming a ‘flat drink’ leading to stomach complications. A flat drink refers to one that doesn’t not pop with froth upon opening.
He says that he was lured by the buy-two-and-get-one-free offer at his local joint, and hoping to make some savings, he bought two bottles. Ogwoka did not believe that his favourite tipple could retail at Sh150 per bottle. Unscrupulous bar operators know that some revellers hardly check the quality of drinks they take.
“We are here to sell drinks, we hardly look at the expiry dates but if you return a drink, you are forced to pay for it,” said a waitress at the pub, adding that people hardly check expiry dates on products, especially imported beer. “This one expired only a month ago, which is okay,” retorted ‘chairman Jairo’ when asked why he was consuming drinks with expiry dates on the bottle, claiming that beer never goes bad.
The populous Nairobi’s Eastlands and various slums in the country are easy prey for sale of expired products where cartels target fast moving consumer goods.
“We get complaints about mould and worms in products especially maize and wheat flour,” says Jane Mwihakia, a shopkeeper at Mukuru kwa Njenga.
While such experiences are common, most consumers are oblivious of the dangers associated with consuming expired foodstuff.
Last year, Business Hub ran the story of two people who had been repackaging over 500 bales of expired wheat flour from their hideout in Siranga are in Kayole, Nairobi county.
The two suspects were arrested with packets of Exe Flour brand that bore the July 2018 shelf life. While they had already repackaged several bales ready for sale, they did not reveal how many bags they had already supplied.
Earlier, Kenya Bureau of Standards and public health officials seized expired cooking oil, rice, sugar and flour worth more than Sh20 million in a distribution store in Eldoret. The goods were being repackaged and branded afresh with fake Kenya Bureau of Standards stickers.
It is emerging the illicit trade is mushrooming due dumping of expired food that finds it way to retailers through porous borders loosely manned or when corrupt officers look the other way to allow entry.
Lack of tight market surveillance or compromised public health officials have also been blamed for the menace.
Further, consumers are at a crossroads on where to report due to lack of a government office mandated by the relevant Act of Parliament to handle such claims.
Shoppers are confused over labling on most products with consumers unsure whether messages such as ‘sell by date’ and ‘best before’ means the same thing as ‘expiry date’.
The ‘sell by date’ marked on a perishable product indicates the recommended time after which a product is no longer considered desirable or effective.
‘Best before’ dates appears on frozen, dried, tinned and other foodstuff and these 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. But an expiry date is a pre-determined date after which something should no longer be used.
Consumers Federation of Kenya secretary general Stephen Mutoro says while the organisation does not have any statistics on reported expired goods, but from correspondence with consumers, he estimates that out of ten fast moving consumer goods, at least one is expired.
“Prices of most commodities have gone up due to inflation, so people do not spend much. This means that most products do not move as fast,” Mutoro said, adding that all this is compounded by the increase of illicit alternative products in the market.
Traders who spoke to Business Hub say public health law enforcement officers are only interested in “collections” and move around checking for expiry dates.