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Dear Consumer Ed:
In Georgia are there laws that prohibit service stations and convenience stores from selling out-of-date food products?
Consumer Ed says:
For the answer to this question, we consulted the Georgia Department of Agriculture.
The Georgia Food Act gives the Georgia Department of Agriculture the authority to put in place rules and regulations that businesses must follow regarding the sale of certain food products with expiration dates. According to the rules, “Expiration Date” means the same thing as “Pull Date”, “Best-By Date”, “Best Before Date”, “Use-By Date”, and “Sell-By Date” and they all refer to the last date on which certain products can be sold at retail or wholesale. In Georgia, it is considered unlawful to sell the following perishable food items past the expiration date stated on the label:
- Pre-packed sandwiches and other ready-to-eat products
- Infant formula
- Fresh shellfish (including oysters, clams and mussels)
- Any potentially hazardous foods (meaning foods with time and/or temperature controls for the safety of the product) that are labeled “Keep Refrigerated”
For food products outside the list above – especially dry, shelf-stable products like potato chips or rice –the rules do not preclude the sale of products that are past the expiration date indicated on the label. Rather, the date is considered a “guideline” for freshness and quality. If a food product has reached its expiration date, it will most likely be an issue of food quality, not food safety, and does not necessarily need to be disposed of immediately. If the product has been stored properly and appears to be visually wholesome and fit for consumption, it can still be consumed after the expiration date with little to no threat of food safety concerns.
Keep in mind that a principle of American food law is that foods sold in the U.S. must be wholesome and fit for consumption. An expiration date does not free a company who produces food or health products from such a responsibility. A product that is dangerous to consumers would be subject to potential action by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to remove it from sale regardless of any date printed on a label.
To better protect yourself, always confirm the expiration dates on foods and beverages before you buy them. Nearly all food products on retail shelves include an expiration date on the product packaging these days. If the item you're holding has an expiration or "best if used by" date that's already passed, pick another item. If you see expired items on a store shelf, there are several things you can do, such as:
- Tell the store manager and follow it up with a letter. Send a copy to corporate headquarters as well.
- Contact the Georgia Department of Agriculture Consumer Complaint line at 404-656-3621.
- Contact your local Better Business Bureau (bbb.org)
- Contact the Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection (consumer.ga.gov)
- File a complaint with the Attorney General (law.ga.gov)
- File a complaint with the Food and Drug Administration (fda.gov).
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