It's no secret, fresh food, including meats and produce, are the keys to healthy living, especially in cities where both can be in short supply.
But what do you do if your local grocery store or supermarket has outdated, even spoiled food on its shelves? That's the question Jeff Cole and FOX 29 Investigates tackled during an undercover investigation of Cousin's Food Market on Lehigh Avenue.
Acting on a tip that meats and produce were being sold that were either expired or still on the shelves after their recommended "sell by" dates, a FOX 29 photographer carrying a hidden camera made three trips to the store.
On October 22nd, the photographer bought some chicken parts, a pack of Butterball Turkey Bologna, some Oscar Meyer Olive Loaf, packaged peppers, and some apricots. FOX 29 spent just over $21.
And what did we get for our money?
The chicken was two days past its "sell by" date, the olive loaf six and the turkey bologna, eleven.
The peppers were two weeks past their prime. Some had mold and others were squishy and covered with spots. A close look at the label on the apricot package showed their October 12th "sell by" date was covered by a price reduction sticker. Some of the fruit was moldy and bruised.
"The sell by date is a general indication of when food is likely not to be in good shape anymore, not necessarily make you sick, but spoiled," says Dr. Jennifer Quinlan, a food safety expert at Drexel University
Dr. Quinlan says "sell by" and "expiration" dates are guidelines. Food that is a couple of days old is probably alright, Quinlan says. But in general, if meats and produce are regularly left out well past their "sell by" dates, consumers should be wary.
"If a facility is routinely not respecting and understanding that, that means the food is not in top quality and potentially becoming unsafe, that would be of concern because it does indicate that management is not following safe food handling practices," Quinlan says.
After repeatedly calling the store for comment and getting nowhere, we paid them a visit earlier this week. Antar Ahmad, who said he was an acting manager, said the store's owners were overseas. He said he had been on vacation for several months and believes some of his employees may be to blame for the outdated food being up for sale.
"It's hard to keep track on every employee," Ahmad said. "They're told everything has to be rotated because everything that comes in has a newer date and then you have the older date. it needs to be sold before the newer date, it has to be rotated."
But we didn't just find outdated food on October 22nd. During another shopping trip, we found orange peppers 32 days past their "sell by" date. We also found macaroni salad 11 days outdated.
Incredibly, we bought packaged turkey salami on October 15th, 53 days past its recommended expiration date.
"Certainly as a consumer you don't want to purchase it at that point, no matter any price reduction or anything else, says Dr. Quinlan. "If it's two months out beyond an expiration or best use date is generally going to be unacceptable."
The acting manager said he was on vacation during that time, but told Jeff Cole if he had been in the store the outdated food would not have been on the shelves.
We also learned that the market hasn't been inspected by the Philadelphia Department of Health since March 18, 2011. During that inspection, the store was hit with seven violations, including three for cleanliness. Inspectors also found mouse droppings on the shelves in the storage and receiving areas.
Acting manager Ahmad said the store was under different management at the time.
"We've been here 30 years," Ahmad said. "It's not like we just got here."
Ahmad said inaccurate labeling was to blame for some of the outdated meat and produce. He said after FOX 29 contacted him, all the problem food was removed.
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Friday, June 7 2013 11:24 PM EDT2013-06-08 03:24:19 GMT
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