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Expired medicine, baby food on Trenton store shelves

August 4, 2008

This article was reported by the staff of the Summer Journal and written by Jasmine Gray and Mariya Ilyas.

Trenton— Some Trenton store shelves hold long-expired products, including baby food and over-the-counter medications for children and adults, a Summer Journal investigation has found.

Summer Journal reporters found 191 expired items, some more than a year old, in seven convenience and drug stores across the city Wednesday. These included Gerber baby food six months past its expiration and children’s motion sickness medicine that expired in November 2007.

New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act states that it is unlawful “to sell or offer to sell to the public … any non-prescription drug, infant formula or baby food” that has passed its expiration date. The New Jersey Attorney General sued Rite Aid and Eckerd in 2006, alleging that they had violated the Consumer Fraud Act. The companies agreed to a $650,000 settlement in June of this year.

Last November, Duane Reade agreed to pay a $175,000 civil penalty and reimburse the state $25,000 in the settlement of a similar lawsuit alleging that the chain sold expired non-prescription drugs, infant formula, baby food and other products.

A team of 20 Summer Journal reporters on Wednesday sifted through the shelves of seven Trenton stores: Krauszer’s at 1719 Greenwood Ave., the 7-Eleven at 415 Lawrenceville Rd., the Wawa Food Market at 2004 Nottingham Way, the Shell Food Mart at 800 Greenwood Ave., the Quick Stop Food Store at 881 Chambers St. and two CVS stores at 1100 Liberty St. and 1240 Greenwood Ave.

Two of the seven stores had expired medicines, two had expired baby food and all had various other expired foods. The seven stores visited Wednesday were not selected randomly. A smaller Summer Journal team visited 16 convenience, grocery and drug stores around Trenton on July 20. Of those, 12 stores had expired items. The Summer Journal returned to some of those stores Wednesday to conduct a more thorough search.

Almost all packages were stamped with one date. In some cases, this date was labeled a “best by” date, in others a “use by” date or an “exp.” date. These dates were all understood as expiration dates. One of the 191 expired products, a carton of eggs, was stamped with two dates – a “sell by” and a “use by” date – both of which had passed.

The reporters found expired over-the-counter medicine at both CVS stores they visited Wednesday. At the CVS at 1100 Liberty St., reporters found 34 expired items, 20 of them medications. Among the findings: children’s lactose intolerance tablets seven months past their expiration and nine packages of children’s motion sickness medicine that had expired in November and December 2007. The Summer Journal also found expired laxatives and milk of magnesia.

At the CVS at 1240 Greenwood Ave., reporters found seven expired products, two of which were medicines: packages of Novitra Cold Sore Relief that had expired in February and June of this year.

Michael DeAngelis, a CVS spokesman, said in an e-mail that the company’s “policy is to remove items before they reach their expiration dates.”

“We apologize that some products had gone beyond their expiration dates in two of our stores,” he said in the e-mail. “We continue to work aggressively to ensure that our review and removal procedures are followed consistently in all of our stores.”

Arthur Levin, director of the Center for Medical Consumers, a non-profit consumer advocacy group based in New York, said that some prescription drugs can become dangerous after they expire, but there is little scientific research on expired over-the-counter medicines. The biggest risk with old over-the-counter drugs is that they lose their potency over time, he said.

“The risk is that you’re buying something that can be ineffective,” Levin said.

The Food and Drug Administration requires that drug manufacturers set expiration dates, he said.

“We have to assume that the FDA does that for good reason,” he said.

Mike Coe, 47, a teacher from southern New Jersey, was picking up a prescription medication at the CVS on Liberty Street on Wednesday when Summer Journal reporters found the expired medicines.

“They should be fired,” he said, referring to the people responsible for stocking the shelves.

Coe said expired products should be removed immediately: “It’s like a dead mouse,” he said.

In addition to medicine, the Summer Journal found expired baby food at two stores: a Shell Food Mart and a 7-Eleven. The Shell Food Mart, a small gas station convenience store on Greenwood Avenue, was carrying nine containers of a baby food called Gerber 2nd Foods that had expired between January and May of this year.

The store contained 27 other expired items, including Welch’s Grape Juice that had expired May 4, 2007.

When informed of the findings, manager Joni Singla, 42, responded: “We received it like this from the company.” Singla said the store’s staff checks the shelves “at least once a month.” Speaking of the expired baby food, he admitted, “It is dangerous.”

Natacha August, 29, of Trenton, was at the Shell store Wednesday buying potato chips with her three children.

“They should be sued,” she said, when told about the expired baby food.

The Summer Journal also found a container of expired Gerber 2nd Foods at the 7-Eleven on Lawrenceville Road, along with 15 other products including yogurt, pastry and cherry pie. Most of these items had expired within the last month; the baby food was almost two months past its expiration.

“One jar of baby food is expired,” said Fazal Rehman, owner of the 7-Eleven. “You can’t say the whole $90,000 worth of products is expired.

“I’m not in the business to sell expired products,” Rehman said, adding that his staff checks the store shelves “on a routine basis.”

Of the seven stores investigated by the Summer Journal on Wednesday, none turned up more expired products than the Quick Stop on Chambers Street. The 54 expired items found there included canned coconut dated October 2004 and a frozen steak dinner from December 2007. Reporters also found a package of dinner rolls that had no expiration date and were green with what appeared to be mold.

“I have four guys working here. I can’t check the whole thing,” said owner Jimmy Patel, 28, who noted that he buys food from supermarkets, not wholesale distributors. “Sometimes you miss it.” Referring to the canned coconut that expired nearly four years ago, he said, “That is not OK … Tomorrow, we’ll throw everything out.”

At Krauszer’s, a small grocery store, reporters found 35 expired products. These items ranged from Oreos that expired seven months ago to mozzarella cheese that expired September 21, 2007.

Owner Yari Patel said in a phone interview, “The cookies came expired.” When informed about the expired cheese, Patel said, “I didn’t know that, actually.” He said that he would remove the items.

At the Wawa on Nottingham Way, the Summer Journal found nine expired snacks, the oldest of which were Earth’s Best Organic Letter of the Day Cookies and Snyder’s of Hanover Hot Buffalo Wing Pretzel Pieces. Both items expired in March.

Manager Cliff Getty said food vendors stock the store’s shelves and are responsible for removing expired products. He said it was inevitable that expired goods will be left on shelves. “Stuff like that’s gonna happen,” he said. Getty said that he would talk to the vendors about the problem.

Dion Williams, 32, of Trenton, was picking up a Gatorade at the Wawa on Wednesday. About a year ago at another store, he said he bought a packet of tuna that had expired eight months earlier, he said. He returned it for a refund.

“It’s shocking,” he said. He has checked expiration dates ever since.