This story was reported by the staff of The Princeton Summer Journal and written by Fernando Cienfuegos, Jayda Jones, and Evelyn Moradian.
There is a 7-Eleven located on a busy commercial thoroughfare in New Brunswick, next to a dollar store and across the street from a pub. Near the 32-ounce Slurpees and over-warmed pizza is an aisle devoted to health products. And several of these health products may not be as healthy as advertised.
Two boxes of 7-Eleven brand Migraine Formula Pain Relief expired in September 2017. Another box of Migraine Formula Pain Relief expired this July. A pair of All Day Allergy Relief boxes, also 7-Eleven brand, expired earlier this summer. And a cough suppressant sat six months past-due on the shelf. None of them should have been there.
The problem isn’t limited to 7-Eleven. This August, a team of reporters from The Princeton Summer Journal surveyed pharmacies and grocery stores in central New Jersey to investigate whether they were stocking outdated drugs, baby products and food. They found 75 expired products in 12 stores. The products ranged from dietary supplements to infant medication.
Eight stores were in the Trenton area: CVS, at 1100 Liberty St., Trenton; ShopRite, at 1750 N. Olden Ave., Ewing; CVS, 1618 N. Olden Ave., Ewing; Rite Aid, 201 N. Hermitage Ave., Trenton; Healthcare Pharmacy, 225 E. State St., Trenton; Rite Aid, 127 E. State St., Trenton; Episcopo’s Pharmacy, 1125 Chambers St., Trenton; Colonial Farms Food Market, 137 E. State St., Trenton. Four were in the New Brunswick area: CVS, 959 Livingston Ave., North Brunswick; Walgreens, 20 Jersey Ave., New Brunswick; Tropical Supermarket, 959 Livingston Ave., North Brunswick; 7-Eleven, 358 George St., New Brunswick.
Federal law requires manufacturers to label drugs with expiration dates, which reassure customers that they are safe and fully potent. According to the Federal Drug Administration, using expired medication can be ineffective or even dangerous. Certain drugs, for example, are susceptible to bacterial growth if past their expiration date. In New Jersey, state law bars stores from stocking outdated drugs.
CVS, Rite Aid, and 7-Eleven did not respond to requests for comment. ShopRite and Walgreens responded to the Summer Journal’s queries, but were not able to address them before publication.
To be sure, Princeton Summer Journal reporters did not attempt to buy any of the products; they merely identified the products on the shelves. If a customer had attempted to buy any of the expired products, it is possible that the expiration date could have been flagged at the checkout counter.
It is not entirely clear why this problem persists. When Sue Berrian, an assistant manager at the New Brunswick 7-Eleven, was asked why the store stocked outdated products, she explained that deliveries could be erratic. Asked when she expected the next delivery of health products, she said, “I have no idea,” before telling the Summer Journal that “we have one new [delivery] guy that keeps messing up.”
Expired items found at three CVS stores included acetaminophen capsules, multivitamins, foot creams, melatonin pills, probiotics, and condoms. “It could have just been an error or someone rotating the product incorrectly,” said Devin, a manager at a Trenton CVS, who didn’t give her last name. She then asked group of Summer Journal reporters, “You don’t have to announce yourself when you come in?”
CVS has been repeatedly penalized for allegedly stocking expired products. In 2016, the company settled with the Pennsylvania attorney general for $450,000 after investigators found out-of-date infant formula and over-the-counter medication at five of the six stores they visited. CVS did not acknowledge any wrongdoing, but did agree to institute training for certain employees and give coupons to Pennsylvania customers who find an expired product. Earlier, the New York attorney general’s office found that 142 CVS and 112 Rite Aid stores in more than 41 counties sold expired products—some of them two years past their expiration dates. As a result, CVS settled for $850,000.
Large corporations are not the only ones who appear to struggle with this issue. Episcopo’s Pharmacy, a small business in Trenton, sold an array of items, from sweets to toys. It also stocked expired medicine. These included gas relief medicine, nasal decongestant and vision supplements. Pharmacist John Berkenkopf said he checked his shelves “every few weeks,” but conceded that expired products sometimes slip through. “It just happens,” he said.
Shah Alkesh, who manages Colonial Farms Food Market in Trenton, explained why expired products can stay on his shelves past their sell-date. “Everybody [is] going to Amazon,” he said, noting that he has difficulty replacing his inventory.
No expired products were found at the CVS on Nassau Street in Princeton. Customers exiting that store were disturbed by the Journal’s findings. “I feel like it’s a disservice to consumers who are trusting these companies and are purchasing something that they think they can use,” said 31-year-old Brigid Gardner, after learning some New Jersey pharmacies were stocking expired drugs. Arifa Khandwalla, 47, of Princeton, New Jersey, agreed: “I don’t think they should be doing that. They don’t have the right to sell it to me.”