Lockdown Emboldens Shopkeepers To Sell Expired Food Products

Manali: Taking undue advantage of the lockdown, several shopkeepers in violation of food safety regulation are selling expired food products while the Food Safety Officers, responsible for checking adulteration and ensuring that safe and nutritious food products are sold, are nowhere in sight.

According to the reports pouring in from around Manali, several shopkeepers have stored expired food items including packaged juices, spices, cakes, biscuits, oil, ghee, etc and are selling them to innocent customers, particularly migrant labourers and illiterate people.

People from many rural areas have complained that the shopkeepers in their vicinity are selling rotten tamarind (imli), inferior quality soya chunks (nutree) and adulterated pulses with impunity as they know that no Food Safety Officer is going to inspect their stores during the ongoing lockdown.

Food Safety

“On a recent visit to the local grocery shop,” Dile Ram, a villager from Kullu valley complained, “I was shocked that the shopkeeper had handed me a tamarind pack, which was not fit for human consumption.”

“It was clearly mentioned on the packet of tamarind: “This product is not for human consumption but for industrial and cleaning purposes” but the shopkeeper started arguing when I pointed this out. The shopkeeper said that he had been selling that product for several years and nobody had ever complained,” said Dile Ram.

Ses Ram, another villager mentioned that a few days ago, a shopkeeper had sold him a bread packet whose consumption date stood expired.  When I complained the next day, he said, the shopkeeper denied any wrong doing.

“Greedy shopkeepers are playing with the health of the consumers but Food Safety Officers are nowhere visible,” he added.

Ram Singh, a resident of Manali alleged that a shopkeeper in his vicinity sold him biscuit packets, which had expired in February. “The manufacturing date on the pack was 31 August, 2019 and the instructions mentioned that they be consumed within 180 days,” he said, adding that he returned all the packets but came to know from his neighbours that their children were regularly eating those biscuits, purchased from that specific shop.

Sheela Devi, an educated housewife from Nagger said that during the lockdown a shopkeeper sold her a bottle of juice with no expiry date and also expired toothpaste but as the shop was close to her house, she immediately had the products returned.

“Some shopkeepers are out to make a fast buck from even food items that have expired and are not fit for human consumption,” she said.

Kanchan, another housewife pointed out media often reports about Food Safety Officers inspecting several food establishments within municipal limits where erring shopkeepers and eateries are booked but we never hear about inspections being conducted in rural areas or about some shopkeeper in a rural area who was penalised for selling adulterated or expired food products.

On making enquiries, sources disclosed that due to lockdown and restrictions on movement, Food Safety Officers have not been able to conduct regular inspections. With the state government having made some relaxations,  the officers would increase random checking of shops selling food items and ensure that safe, clean and fresh food items are sold by the shopkeepers.

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Sanjay Dutta, an engineer by qualification but is a journalist by choice. He has worked for the premier new agency Press Trust of India and leading English daily Indian Express. With more than a decade of experience, he has been highlighting issues related to environment, tourism and other aspects affecting mountain ecology. Sanjay Dutta lives in a village close to Manali in Kullu valley of Himachal.

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