Expired products - including chicken, polony and baby formula - were found during inspections of shops in the Durban CBD and Isipingo. REUTERS/Nicky Loh (TAIWAN)
DURBAN - Expired products - including chicken, polony and baby formula - were found during inspections of shops in the Durban CBD and Isipingo this week, says Trevor Hattingh, the National Consumer Commission (NCC) spokesperson.

The commission, in partnership with the provincial Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs and the eThekwini Municipality, held business compliance inspections in the city this week.

The activities formed part of the build-up programme for World Consumer Rights Day, which is today.

Hattingh said that during the inspections, they had found that many retailers in the city centre had perishable food products that had passed their "best before" dates on their shelves.

“Products such as polony, chicken, chicken livers and fish that had passed their best before dates were found on the shelves.”

He said that in some retail outlets, the "best before" date markings had been removed from the perishable food products.

“Most alarming was the discovery of baby food and formula which had passed their "best before" dates,” Hattingh said.

In addition, he said, counterfeit products such as paraffin stoves had been found at certain outlets.

“Counterfeit paraffin stoves can seriously harm those who use them because they do not comply with safety standards prescribed by law. They do not have the safety features that guarantee consumer safety,” he said.

According to Hattingh, they also discovered illegal loan sharks who had consumers’ identity documents as well as bank and social security cards.

He said that, under the Consumer Protection Act, these practices infringed consumers’ rights to the disclosure of information and rights to fair value, good quality and safety.

Hattingh said that where the infringements of consumers’ rights were widespread, the retail outlets had been closed.

During the operations, the inspection teams confiscated perishable food products which had passed their "best before" dates and large quantities of alcohol from retailers who did not have a licence to trade in liquor, as well as counterfeit products.

“The operation also effected the arrests of 14 foreign nationals who did not have valid permits,” he said.

A bakery and two fish-and-chips take-aways had been closed because they did not have certificates of compliance enabling them to operate.

Hattingh advised consumers to be aware of their consumer rights and not buy perishable food items that had passed their "best before" dates.

“Furthermore, they should avoid buying counterfeit heating appliances because these products could cost them their lives or the loss of a limb,” he said.

The NCC warned that businesses needed to comply with consumer protection and other laws.

“As a multidisciplinary team, we will conduct regular, unannounced inspections in Durban and where we find that a business is blatantly infringing consumers’ rights, we will enforce the law and prosecute the owners,” said Hattingh.

He said the NCC would issue hefty fines and ask the courts to consider direct imprisonment as an appropriate sanction.

On Friday the NCC and other interested parties will hold a discussion at the Elangeni Hotel, North Beach, on the state of consumer protection in South Africa, 10 years after the promulgation and implementation of the Consumer Protection Act.