By Vayne Ong
with Samuel Lee, Jeannie Regidor and the staff of The Princeton Summer Journal
In a Krauszer’s Food Store in Trenton, New Jersey, five two-liter bottles of Barq’s root beer collect dust on the bottom shelf of the soda aisle. When the dust is wiped away, text reveals these bottles all passed their sell-by dates in June 2014.
These were just five of the 272 expired products, ranging from food to over-the-counter drugs, found in an Aug. 4 Princeton Summer Journal investigation. In a survey of convenience stores and pharmacies in Trenton, a team of 23 Summer Journal reporters discovered a wide range of products that have passed their sell-by, best-if-used-by, use-by, and expiration dates.
Summer Journal reporters identified expired products at four convenience stores and four pharmacies in Trenton: Krauszer’s Food Store at 1719 Greenwood Ave., Family Supermarket at 959 Liberty St., Exxon Tiger Mart at 801 N. Olden Ave., the 7-Eleven at 828 N. Olden Ave., Episcopo’s Pharmacy at 1125 Chambers St., Medical Home Pharmacy at 828 N. Olden Ave., and two CVS locations at 1100 Liberty St. and 1240 Greenwood Ave. (At a ninth store, the Gulf Mart at the corner of Liberty St. and Chambers St., no expired products were found.)
New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act as well as the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act prohibit the sale of any expired non-prescription drugs, infant formula, or infant food. Moreover, expired products can pose health risks to consumers and breach the retailer’s promise of quality to their customers.
To be sure, there is no prohibition on selling expired food. In addition, just because an expired item is on the shelf does not mean it will actually be sold to a customer. “We have a policy that the cashier has to check the items at the register. If it’s an item that has an expiration date, the register will prompt the cashier to check the expiration date,” explained Alex Colon, store manager of the CVS on Liberty St. “We also take whatever else is expired on that same item.”
Krauszer’s Food Store alone carried 173 products that had passed their points of peak quality. Throughout the store, multiple packages of the same item were marked with the same date, including 20 jars of B&G hot dog relish that passed their best-by date in April 2015. Some other products passed their sell-by dates more than a year ago. The oldest item found in the store was a bag of Planter’s smoked almonds dated October 8, 2012.
Both CVS locations and Medical Home Pharmacy carried expired children’s medication. In the CVS on Liberty St., the Summer Journal found CVS Pharmacy brand Baby Cough and Cold medicine that had expired in February and CVS Pharmacy brand Infants’ Pain and Fever medicine that had expired in June. Episcopo’s Pharmacy on Chambers St. had just one expired item (acne wash).
This is not the first time the Summer Journal has investigated central New Jersey convenience stores and pharmacies for expired products. In 2008, at the same CVS on Liberty St., reporters identified 34 expired items; this year’s reporters counted 35. Both investigations found children’s medicine that was past their expiration dates. In 2009, then-Attorney General of New York Andrew Cuomo reached an $875,000 settlement with CVS Caremark Corporation to stop sales of expired products.
When asked for a comment, Mike DeAngelis, director of public relations at the CVS Corporate Office, said, “We will follow up with our Trenton stores to ensure that our product removal procedures are being properly followed.”
A reporter found Chobani Greek Yogurt that expired nearly a month ago at the 7-Eleven on N. Olden Ave. When asked about the expired goods, store manager Deep Shukla, said, that the store gets 1500 to 1600 customers each day. “It is not a big surprise because of the volume that we do. It gets overboard.”
Owner and manager of Episcopo’s Pharmacy John Berkenkopf explained that when his employees stock his store every morning, he filters expired goods into a box and sends them to a company that keeps expired drugs from circulating on the black market. “They get them out of here, and that’s all I care about,” he said.
Medical Home Pharmacy, on N. Olden Ave., hires a company to sweep the store for expired over-the-counter medication every six months, said store manager Mehmed Ugur.
Expired medication has more serious health implications than old food. “Expired medical products can be less effective or risky due to a change in chemical composition or decrease in potency,” explained Christopher Kelly, a spokesperson for the FDA. “Once the expiration date has passed, there’s no guarantee the medicine will be safe or effective. It could become weaker, and may not provide the needed treatment. If the medicine has expired, don’t use it.”
When it comes to food, the sell-by, best-if-used-by, and use-by dates more commonly indicate the quality of the product rather than safety — and some argue it’s wrong to waste expired food. Still, Sarah Downs, a dietitian at the University of California, Los Angeles, points out that there are drawbacks to such products. “From a quality standpoint,” she said, “we’re buying these items and not getting what we paid for.”