Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Hazards of a long supply chain - sale of time-expired product

Poor old Fonterra!  The New Zealand dairy giant is in the news again for a problem with milk powder in China, but this time it could have been any food company.  Its product has been on-sold several times, and time-expired milk powder has been repackaged and sold at a discounted rate.

I haven't been able to find out whether the original powder packaging was marked with a "Best before" date, or a "Use by" date and these terms are not used in China.  According to National Standard GB7718-2011, the General Rules for the Labeling of Prepackaged Foods, in China, the labeling consist of production date and date of minimum durability.

Clearly, Fonterra is blameless in this case, and, with a long supply chain, it is difficult for the company to control what happens to its product.

The obvious concern in China, beyond any illegal activity, is the potential hazard to the consumer.

Can time-expired milk powder be hazardous to the consumer?  In my opinion, this is highly unlikely.  Properly packed and stored milk powder will keep for years - bacteria will not grow in the very low water activity in the powder.  However, repackaging offers the possibility of contamination.  The most likely issue is that the powder may become oxidised, leading to taste defects.

So, is this a big deal?  Yes - the consumer is entitled to receive food products in good condition and not be sold inferior goods, and this includes not receiving perfectly safe but time-expired products.

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