Fresh documents passed to the Sunday Standard suggest that the Botswana Stock Exchange and Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) listed Choppies supermarket chain continues to sell expired products and food items despite a massive raid by law enforcement agencies on the superstore eight years ago.
The documents further suggest that the supermarket chain store is still in violation of the Botswana Public Health Act.
This emerged during a routine inspection conducted by Kweneng District Council at one of the Choppies stores in Thamaga. According to the documents passed to the Sunday Standard, the inspection was triggered by an incident in which a Thamaga baby fell ill after consuming cereal milk bought from the Choppies store.
In a letter dated 5th January 2018, Senior Assistant Council Secretary Thati Bajammeo states that pursuant to the requirements of Public Health Act and the Food Control Act, an inspection of Choppies was conducted on the 29th December. He explained that this was done in the presence of the manager ascertaining their suitability.
“An inspection was carried out following a food poisoning complainant from ingesting a cerelac baby cereal with milk which had expired,” said Bajammeo.
The findings revealed the following:
-The cerelac, baby cereal with milk of 250g which was bought on the 25th December 2017 from accrete Pty Ltd (Choppies Thamaga) had the expiry on the cereal dated 31st October 2017.
-The Assistant manager confirmed the sale of the product and all other expired goods had been removed from the shelves at the time of inspection.
-The manager was issued with a fine of P1000.00 for selling expired goods to customers which is in violation of Food Control Act.
“A follow up inspection will be conducted after a month to monitor compliance,” said Bajammeo.
A medical report prepared for the father of the baby, Modise Chise, by Dr SK Mbwana of SK MEDLINKS, also confirmed that the baby milk was not suitable for consumption.
The medical doctor added that he attended to the “5 ┬¢ old on 28/12/2017 with a history of vomiting and cramps following ingestion of Cerelac preparation which had expired (best before 31.10.2017).”
The doctor further stated that “Clinical findings were of digestive system upset lining from the contaminated food items.”
Responding to Sunday Standard queries, Choppies Communication and Marketing Manager Otsile Marole said Choppies as a major player in the Botswana Fast Moving Consumer Goods Sector (FMCG) takes pride in ensuring that our customers get the best merchandise by stringent internal merchandise controls.
She added that “products that are shy of best before date (BBD) are pulled from the shop by the respective shop management, recorded and sent to suppliers and a claim made against such product by the concerned shop.
According to Marole, “It is a routine exercise in all Choppies stores. It is very important explain that the general public should appreciate in clear display that Choppies has no business interest in selling any stock whose Best Before Dates have elapsed, as the public made to falsely believe.”
From the incident that emanated at Thamaga, Marole noted that management at the respective branch have dealt with the matter to the best of their ability.
“This is done by constant communication with the complainant and the same communication channel made open to him in treatment of the matter from the date of report o 29th December 2017 to date,” she said.
Marole explained that the report was duly escalated to senior management duly represented by the Investigations & Compliance Manager who has also been in communication with the complainant to gain full appreciation and possible resolution of the matter. Choppies by its relative national footprint will at times be subjected to claims of all nature, and it remains our number one priority to ensure that all issues are dispensed with in an honest amicable manner to all concerned parties.
She said the fine levied by Kweneng District Council was made in reliance with the provisions of Section 12 (1) of the Food Control Act 11 of 1993.
“The said section generally deals with food unfit for human consumption by way of being poisonous, containing harmful substances, being filthy, dirty, tainted, putrid, rotten, decomposed, containing diseases substance or foreign matte or being in adulterated in any way,” she said.
Marole added that “ Against this piece of legislation there is no display as to how foodstuffs with an elapsed Best Before date are unfit for human consumption or clear evidence attesting to the said products noxiousness, this in relation to the above immediate explanation of Best Before standards.”
She said “Only a forensic examination may deem a product as either fit or unfit for human consumption, none of which has been done (food forensic examination) by the charging party Kweneng District Council.”
This is not the first time that Choppies found itself being accused of selling food items that are not suitable for human consumption.
A massive raid by inspectors and law enforcement officers at Choppies and its sister company, ILO Industries in Lobatse seized and destroyed expired, damaged, wrongly labelled, rotten, weevil-infested and mould-attacked food items in 2009.
Sunday Standard also reported at the time that Botswana’s National Food Laboratory found evidence of bacterial contamination in tests on ILO Industries food samples on at least three occasions in 2011 and 2012.
There was no evidence that other than the destruction of the food items, any action was taken against the company. The trade ministry’s permanent secretary, Peggy Serame, said at the time that after the 2009 crackdown her ministry warned Choppies to comply with consumer laws.