The expiry date put on the label of Pusti soybean oil says it can be used for one year from the date of manufacture. But last year its producer Super Oil Refinery Limited refilled new bottles with edible oil that was recalled from the market after the expiry date.
The shocking reality came to the fore when a RAB mobile court caught factory workers red-handed while they were filling up new bottles with expired oil, and fined the Pusti producer Tk75 lakh.
In another drive, the RAB also fined KBC Agro Product, owner of Saffola oil, the same amount for the expiry date forgery.
The Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection, in cooperation the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution and different other agencies, in drives frequently finds incidents of tampering with expiry dates of different food products.
Bakery manufacturers falsify the shelf life of food items the most, said officials who conduct regular drives. And the expiry date forgery is rampant in terms of milk products such as sweets and curd.
Shelf life is the length of time that a product, especially food, can be kept in a shop before it becomes too old to be sold or used.
Manjur Mohammad Sharier, deputy director of the National Consumer Rights Protection, told The Business Standard, "When we go for a drive, we find many problems regarding expiry dates of bakery items such as curd, sweets and bread. There has been no mention of expiry date on some products."
To rein in such a practice of tampering with both manufacturing and expiry dates, the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BFSA) has asked all producers and processors of food items to submit a study report on the shelf life of every food item by March 7.
The authorities on Monday sent a letter to all food producing firms, including Bangladesh Agro-Processors' Association, in this regard.
Strict action will be taken against those who have been manufacturing products for a long time but do not have any such study report.
BFSA officials said big and medium manufacturers have their own testing labs. But most of them do not conduct regular tests on their products for quality control. They hardly pay attention to a study on shelf life of products as well.
Kamruzzaman Kamal, director (marketing) of Pran-RFL Group, said, "The firm has a team to monitor to check whether any expired food item reaches consumers. It regularly monitors markets."
Pran has an accredited lab to conduct tests regularly for ensuring quality of products, he added.
Prior to fixing the shelf life of a particular product, it is necessary for manufacturers to do tests on it to assess how long it lasts in different temperatures, keeping in mind the fact of how sellers and consumers preserve it.
If any change in quality is found at any stage, they will have to keep its record.
They will have to see after how much time the product starts perishing. The tests will determine the expiry date of the specific product.
Of late, processed food has been becoming popular in Bangladesh.
Different types of pithas and food items like Ruti, Singara, Samosa and Chicken Pizza are on sale. These could be bought and after taking home instant ready-to-eat food can be prepared in ovens.
A visit to the Agora super shop in the capital's Segunbagicha revealed that the date of expiry on the mini chicken samosa packet of AG Food was given as one year. Its preservation process is somewhat complex.
Such products should be preserved at minus 18 degree Celsius.
Most super shops do not comply with the stipulation.
Retail shop owners keep products at a temperature in arbitrary fashion.
Mahbub Kabir, acting chairman of the BFSA, told The Business Standard, "Those who are fixing expiry dates of products by following a specified process will not face any problems. But those who do not follow the rules will face punishment."
He said legal action will be taken against those who are unable to provide a study of shelf life.