This came to light on Tuesday at the Competition Commission inquiry into the grocery retail sector.
Public hearings are being held throughout the country, with the Commission sitting in Durban this week.
Thabiso Selepe, director of the Consumer Protection Services in KwaZulu-Natal, said: “We normally target rural areas where we visit supermarkets and conduct business inspections, and we found that most of the food sold is expired groceries.”
He said they worked with municipalities to punish supermarkets selling expired food and made sure they were removed from the shelves.
Selepe said they had found expired junk food such as chips, without proper labelling. These were being sold to children and they would get sick, he said.
He showed the commission a picture of chicken wings dated as far back as 2015. These were being sold to the public. Selepe said sweets that had long since expired were also being sold to children and some products had fungi, putting the lives of consumers at risk.
“What we picked up is that most of these shops, especially in the rural areas, buy these products from big retailers at a very discounted rate. When they sell these products in the rural areas they sell them at a very cheap price and people will go for anything that is cheap,” Selepe said.
The expiry dates were removed from the products and people would not know if the goods had gone off.
They learnt that most of the businesses in the rural areas operated without licences. He said some had fake business registration certificates and fake South African Revenue Services certificates.
Selepe said stores in Durban central also broke the law.
Desmond Pillay, deputy manager of complaints, who was part of the Protection Services presentation, highlighted how poisonous some of the products were that were being sold in townships such as uMlazi, Phoenix and Chatsworth.
He said you could find unknown cigarette brands being sold for as little as R5 a packet.
“It is very harmful for your body. But people are buying it.”
Pillay suspected the products were being imported into the country.
Some beauty products sold on the streets were also harmful. “They sell creams that containe hydroquinone, which has been banned. It was banned in the 1960s. But there are certain creams sold with this ingredient which contains mercury.
"It can burn your face and you can get cancer.”
Fly-by-night supermarkets, he said, were also a problem as they sold unknown brand names and it was difficult to determine where they came from.
After the presentation, Pillay said these beauty products were dangerous because they did not say what ingredients were in the products, yet it is required by law.
“I think consumer education is critical. The consumer has to be proactive and be more critical. On the other hand, it is also difficult as poor people are also likely to buy cheaper products and could easily be exploited by retailers.”
The hearings are set to continue until Friday.