On a lazy Sunday afternoon, Vithaya Kulsomboon had to call off his plan to share iced chao kuay _ black jelly _ with his family when he found the expiry date marked on the package came a few days before he bought it. He was considering getting a refund on the pack or simply throwing it away.
"Most Thais would throw away the pack, get frustrated with themselves, and then get over it in the next few days," said Saree Ongsomwang, secretary-general of the Foundation for Consumers, at a consumer forum at a recent conference held by Thailand Pesticide Alert Network.
It would be a lot less complicated to dump the pack, as many have done, and forget about the expired dessert. But activists are encouraging Thais to be more proactive to stand up for their rights, rather than being ignorant.
Vithaya wasn't an average Thai, though. He drove all the way back to the supermarket only to find himself filling out a full-page refund form. And it became his burden to present the receipt and the item, with his ID card, to ensure that the expired pack had been purchased from the supermarket.
Saree said it should not be the consumer's responsibility to travel all the way to return the product, but the supermarket's duty to not sell expired products. And if the operators fail to do so, it's their job to retrieve the expired product from the customers, or the consumer must be compensated for their travelling time and expenses.
Saree recalled her experience in a fair trade shop in England when the business operator was confronted with such a situation. Once being informed a product contained GMO (genetically modified organism) ingredients, indicated on the label, the staff thanked her, apologised for the error, and immediately took off every item of its kind off the shelf.
An expiry date is required by law, according to the Food Act BE 2522, to be clearly indicated on the package. But in reality these indications are not consistent. It's sometimes indicated as "best before" or "use before", and either on the label, the bottom, or the cover of a package.
The expiry date of the black jelly, Vithaya said, was printed on each small pack inside the bulk pack, and could hardly be seen because of the black contents. Like most consumers, Vithaya assumed the products sitting on the shelf were safe.
Consumers are encouraged to stand up for their rights, said Pol Col Paitoon Kamnueng from Consumer Protection Police Division. Once a defective product is found, staff or management should be informed and it should be removed from sale immediately.
The consumer can file a complaint against the business operator with the division on its hotline, 1135, or with the Drug and Food Administration.
Consumers can help make a difference by taking action, said Saree, or everyone could end up buying expired products for the rest of their lives.
"Taking action once is a lot better than making thousands of complaints to yourself." Consumers can always consult the foundation.
"It's a waste of time. But it does make a difference if you complain," said Vithaya. The more consumers speak up for themselves, the more operators will become strict with the service and product quality. He hoped an expiry date alert could be included in the barcode system, notifying the cashier to an out-of-date item. In the end, his efforts paid off. After filling out the form, the payment was refunded and he received a new pack of dessert. Most importantly, all the expired items he wanted taken off the shelf were removed. "At least, other expired packs wouldn't be bought by other careless customers," he said.
About the author
- Writer: Sirinya Wattanasukchai