12 ON YOUR SIDE: Food sold past the sell by date

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A South Richmond woman called 12 to report her neighborhood supermarket for selling food past the expiration date. 12 On Your Side investigated and discovered it's happened before.

But, is it illegal?

Stores are not required to date their products, except for infant formula, some baby foods and dairy items.

But many shoppers, like Merewyn Composto, pay attention to sell by, use by and best before dates, and so does Virginia's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Community Supermarket Southside Plaza is on their radar.

Merewyn Composto grocery shops a few times a month at Community Supermarket Southside Plaza. One recent visit prompted her to call 12.

"They had lovely steaks marked down for quick sale, but when I looked at them the sell by date is marked out," said Composto.

We directed her to the U.S.D.A. She says they took her report and said they would investigate.

"Nothing had changed," she said.

Then, Composto says she pulled a store manager aside and told him.

"He looked shocked and said, 'I'll take care of it right away' and they were still selling expired meat."

So, we checked out the store ourselves, undercover, to see what customers were picking up.

We found no blacked-out sell by dates, but the store sold us eggs two days after the expiration date and a package of beef five days after the sell by date.

We got this two weeks after a state food inspector found blacked-out sell by dates and reviewed price-marking procedure with store personnel.

There have been numerous complaints over the years, and we've got the results of several state inspections after I filed a Freedom of Information request.

When we went to talk to the manager, assistant manager Mike called us out instead, saying store manager Ben Campbell isn't here and he wouldn't want us here.

He wouldn't talk on camera, but says the store has turned around completely. There were lots of complaints about different things, but he says they're now getting compliments from customers.

In August, a routine state inspection found seven meat packages with covered sell by dates. In 2010, a dead mouse on a glue board was found in a stock room.

U.S.D.A. investigates and monitors. It has not revealed any other action taken.

Food inspectors say in most cases, products sold past the sell by date are not a safety risk. Improper conditions have more to do with food spoiling.

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