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Where can I report expired food and what must I know BEFORE I do?

By Linda Jackson on 30 January 2020

Where can I report expired food and what must I know BEFORE I do?

This debate of selling expired food has once again reared its head this week. We have had several enquiries regarding where to report the sale of expired food.
“The idea that shelf-stable food such as biscuits, canned goods, cereals, maize meal, sauces and pasta goes from being perfectly okay up to the 'best before' date on the pack to 'rotten,' 'off', 'toxic' or 'unsafe' is as ridiculous as it is widespread.” Wendy Knowler, Consumer activist

So, let us break this down.

1. The FCD Act makes it a criminal offence to sell or offer to sell any foodstuff which is contaminated or unsafe to eat and inspectors have the power to order the removal from sale of such contaminated or unsafe foodstuffs. 


Just because a foodstuff has reached its “Sell By”, “Use By” or “Best Before” date DOES NOT MEAN it should be considered contaminated or unsafe to consume.

2. Although the law says a product must have a Best Before, Sell by or Use by date, none of these definitions state that after such a date, whether Best Before, Sell By, or Use By, the food is unsafe to consume.

This is what the Minister of Health stated:” There are three dates recognized by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (this is the WHO and FAO that control matters pertaining to food consumption around the world).

  • Best-before date: This is for long shelf life dry or canned products. It is used for stock rotation and is not an indicator of safety.
  • Sell-by date: This has been used for perishable food which is usually stored in a refrigerator. The meaning and implications of this date has caused so much confusion globally that in July this year the Codex Alimentarius Commission has discontinued the use of this date. It is no longer relevant
  • Use-by / Expiry date: this is the ‘expiry date’ as we know it. It means that food MAY no longer palatable after this date. For perishable food – in other words the food in your fridge, this means it should no longer be consumed.”

Food scientists determine expiration dates based on observing how long it takes for a food to start losing its quality (change texture, lose flavor and so on) under proper storage conditions. As we said earlier, this doesn't mean it is unsafe to eat. It just may not look its best. For highly perishable items like ready-to-eat salads, scientists also look at how much microbial activity is present after a certain number of days, since harmful bacteria could be present before a person could detect spoilage [source: NSW Food Authority].

3. It IS illegal to tamper with, change, or in any way alter the date of durability once it has been applied to a foodstuff. However, the actual “Best Before”, “Use By” and “Sell By” dates are not prescribed for any by law, the law does not state how long the periods can be, and they are determined by the manufacturer.

4. Selling NON PERISHABLE food past its best before dates is not illegal BUT It should be discounted!

5. You should NOT buy nor consume highly perishable food beyond its USE BY DATE. Even this one may have exceptions such as yoghurt, hard cheeses but as a rule rather NOT

So, If you identify the sale of perishable food beyond its USE BY DATE


Evidence of tampering or changing of any date labels


No Date labels on foodstuffs


Food sold beyond its BEST BEFORE date that is NOT discounted and you are NOT notified of this fact

THEN you can call the NDoH hotline 011-386-2003/6 during office hours, and the NCC hotline 012-428-7000. Otherwise do you part in curbing food waste in a country where about 22% of households have inadequate or severely inadequate access to food (Stats SA’s General Household Survey, 2016).