Examine your sweets for finest earlier than date

Pushpa Girimaji

In September, I bought 30 rasgullas from a well-known sweet shop. The owner assured me that they would stay absolutely fresh for seven days if I kept them refrigerated. However, the sweets went bad on the third day. How does one determine the true shelf life of these sweets?

As per the ‘Guidance Note on Safety and Quality of Traditional Milk Products” released by the food safety regulator, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), this year, Bengali sweets like rasgullas have a shelf life of just two days from the date of manufacture, when refrigerated.

So, in order to sell his stock, the shopkeeper misled you on the shelf life, unmindful of the fact that stale sweets, particularly milk products, can cause food poisoning. In order to prevent just these kind of unfair trade practices and ensure food safety, the FSSAI has now mandated that, from October 1, all businesses selling non-packed sweets should display on the tray or the container, the ‘best before date’ of the product. The FSSAI has given the food business operator the option to determine the shelf life, depending on the product and the local conditions.

As you are probably aware, all pre-packed food items, including sweets, should indicate the date of manufacture, ‘best before’ or ‘use before’ date, the list of ingredients used and the FSSAI registration or licence number, as per FSSAI (Packaging and Labelling) Regulations, 2011. However, non-packed foods have never been subject to mandatory declaration of shelf life. Since sweets, especially milk products, have a short shelf life and can get spoilt very fast, the FSSAI decided to make it mandatory for sweet sellers to declare the best before date.

In fact, on February 24 this year, the FSSAI issued an order making declaration of ‘date of manufacture’ as well as the ‘best before date’ mandatory from June 1, 2020. However, following the lockdown and the disruption caused on account of Covid-19, the date of enforcement was postponed to August 1 and subsequently to October 1.

In its September 25 order, the FSSAI has made the declaration of only the ‘best before date’ mandatory, while the ‘date of manufacture’ is voluntary. This is disappointing, but I do hope that this is only the first step and soon the ‘date of manufacture’ and the list of ingredients will also become mandatory.

In case of non-compliance of this order, complain to the FSSAI on their WhatsApp number: 9868686868, or on their toll free number: 1800 11 2100, or mail at compliance@fssai.gov.in.

What action can I take against the retailer who gave me a false assurance on the shelf life and later refusing to refund my money?

I do hope that you have a cash receipt as proof of purchase. If you do, I would suggest that you take the following action: (a) warn other consumers about this shop through the social media; (b) file a complaint before the consumer court seeking refund of the cost of the sweets and compensation; (c) complain to the local food safety officer about the shop.

A retailer who lies about the shelf life of the product may well have used substandard or prohibited ingredients (such as non-permitted colours) or prepared them in unhygienic conditions. He may also give an incorrect indication of shelf life. A check would be useful.

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