Are stores allowed to sell expired food products?

January 26, 2015 14:25 by Consumer Ed

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In Georgia are there laws that prohibit service stations and convenience stores from selling out-of-date food products?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:

 

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • 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 Georgia Department of Law’s Consumer Protection Unit (consumer.ga.gov)
  • File a complaint with the Attorney General (law.ga.gov)
  • File a complaint with the Food and Drug Administration (fda.gov).

 

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

Rate This


How to tell if an online product review is real or fake

December 3, 2014 15:16 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:

How can I tell if an online review of a product is real or fake?

Consumer Ed says: 

Considering how easy it is for anyone to post an online review for potential customers to see, you’re right to be skeptical about the reliability of online product reviews.  Businesses understand that consumers’ purchase decisions are often swayed by user-generated online reviews.  Unfortunately, this has led some businesses to post positive reviews of their own products or services, and negative reviews of competitors’, while pretending to be real customers.  Other businesses have even incentivized consumers to write fake reviews in return for payment or discounts.  The Federal Trade Commission has tried to minimize fake reviews by imposing fines on those who post and/or pay for fake reviews.  The incentive to fabricate phony critiques remains high because the likelihood of getting caught is still unfortunately low.

This Office has also pursued such parties for this kind of false advertising. However, it is often very difficult to distinguish between a legitimate review and a fraudulent review.  Many sites, like Amazon and Yelp, use multiple methods of analysis to detect fake reviews.  This helps to a degree, but is not foolproof.  However, there are other things you can do to filter through the fake reviews on your own:

Compare reviews not only within a site, but across different websites.  Read a lot of reviews to form an opinion about the site and decide whether it's trustworthy.  Then, compare reviews of the same product on other sites to determine an overall trend of reviews for a product.  You can't necessarily trust a handful of bad reviews or glowing reviews, but trends are much harder to fake.

Compare reviews by the same reviewer. Look at other reviews by the same reviewer to help you decide how much trust to put in the opinions of that person.  Be wary of "one-time" or "first time" reviewers. Reviews by people who are verified by the site are more trustworthy than reviews by anonymous reviewers.  Anonymous reviews are far more suspect than a review that tells you who wrote it with brief biographical information.  Try to verify if the reviewer has actually purchased a product (e.g., an Amazon reviewer’s “Verified Purchaser” status indicates that the review was posted by someone who has actually purchased the product being reviewed through the site).

Be watchful for similar wording on reviews.  Legitimate reviewers usually speak specifically about their individual experience with the product, and discuss things like performance, reliability, and overall value.  So, if the reviews mainly list off product features, or if there are a number of reviews that use similar wording to describe the product, the reviews could be fake.

Be skeptical about "extreme" reviews. 
If a reviewer makes over-the-top, extremely positive or negative comments, that should raise your suspicions.  Generally, most people will list one or two things they liked, along with something they may have been surprised by (whether positively or negatively).  But when the reviewer uses terms like "absolute worst" and "best ever," it’s worth checking out the reviewer before taking what he/she says as the gospel. In general, read reviews less for whether they give a product five stars or one star, and more for the specific information they give about the reviewer’s experience with the product. 

Check the business reputations of all merchants. Organizations such as the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org) and agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov) maintain information about at least some reviewers and reviewed products.

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

Rate This


Store sold me a rug for wrong price and now wants more money

July 2, 2014 22:35 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed: 

I purchased a rug from a major department store for around $300. The receipt said that all sales were final. I later received a phone call from the store manager asking me to return the rug, explaining that the associate had made an error and the rug should have cost $2,000. I was unaware of the pricing discrepancy when I purchased the rug.  Am I obligated to return the rug at this point?

Consumer Ed says: 

First, we want to remind our readers that we do not give legal advice, but here is our take on the situation... This sounds like a completed transaction and a genuine mistake with no intentional wrongdoing, in which case it would ultimately be your decision whether to return the rug (in light of the salesperson’s error).

The sale of the rug appears complete: you paid the requested price and they gave you the product, the rug.  Moreover, the sales receipt prepared by the merchant includes an “all sales final” provision.  A sales receipt is an acknowledgement of payment, but it can also serve as evidence of an agreement between the seller and the buyer.  This is especially true where the receipt includes additional terms beyond the price that are binding on the parties like, for example, an “all sales final” notice, such as the one found on your receipt.  This is a term that the seller required by putting it on the back of his sales receipt.  Assuming the seller didn’t retain the right to cancel the contract after accepting your payment and handing over the rug, the “all sales final” clause could be binding on both parties.

Notably, under federal and state laws, sellers are prohibited from using misleading or deceptive acts or practices when selling their goods or services.  This can include making false oral or written representa¬tions, failure to perform promised services, failure to meet warranty obligations, using bait and switch techniques (advertising a product without the intent to sell it but rather to lure a customer in and switch them to a more expensive item), or making misleading price claims.

However, here it looks like there was a genuine pricing error and no deception took place.  The salesperson mistakenly sold you the rug at a lower price than the true sales price.  You presumably thought it was a good deal and had no reason to know of the salesperson’s error.  Generally, assuming the buyer and seller are both innocent of wrongdoing, and the purchase agreement doesn’t specify what to do if there is a mistake such as a pricing error, the seller will bear the burden of his mistake.  In this case, that means the department store would be responsible for its error unless you choose to return the rug. Note that you may get some push-back from the store if you keep the rug, so you might want to consult with a lawyer.

Tips:

  • KEEP your receipts, especially for higher ticket items. This is the best proof of what you bought, how much you paid and when the transaction occurred.  
  • READ the receipt, purchase agreement and/or any posted disclosures for terms and conditions that may apply to the purchase, such as an “all sales final” provision. These terms and conditions outline what your rights are.
  • ONLINE SHOPPERS BEWARE. If you’re shopping online, read through the company’s online terms and conditions carefully before making a purchase. Often online sellers will have a term regarding pricing errors due to computer glitches which allows them to cancel a transaction with no further obligation to you, even if you receive an order confirmation or shipping notice.

 

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

Rate This


Credit/Debt
nav_cap