Rotten lamb reveals how packaging can mislead

TRACEY CHATTERTON
Last updated 05:00 25/01/2013

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A man who was sold rotten legs of lamb by his local New World says consumers are being deceived by misleading labelling.

Two vacuum-packed legs of lamb bought by Ross McIvor from Onekawa New World in Napier turned out to be off. The supermarket then gave him two replacement legs that were green.

He thought that was bad enough, but was then shocked to find that the supermarket's practice of labelling meat with a "packing date" did not indicate when it was actually packed. Instead it reflected when the meat was put on the supermarket's shelf.

The label on the green leg of lamb given to Mr McIvor stated that it had been packaged the day before, on January 16.

So he was appalled to learn that it was packaged at a processing plant on December 18 - almost a month earlier.

Foodstuffs NZ spokeswoman Antoinette Shallue said Foodstuffs stores "strictly comply" with the Food Standards Code, which requires a "best before" date but not a "packed on" date.

Stores often applied their own "packed on" dates to enable traceability, she said.

However, the Commerce Commission said customers should be able to rely on "packaged on" dates being correct. If the labels misled people, the store risked breaching the Fair Trading Act.

Mr McIvor said the current legislation was not good enough. "Whoever authorises the supermarkets and allows them to put deceiving labels on their meat needs their arse kicked.

"We have no idea how old the lamb is. It's a downright lie."

He was told the lamb he was initially sold, which was within its expiry date, was off because the vacuum packing was faulty.

However, the Coastal Spring Lamb supplier and the vacuum-packers had not been told of any problems when contacted by The Dominion Post yesterday. The farmer was appalled his lamb was being sold in such a poor state.

Onekawa New World immediately removed the batch from its shelves and Foodstuffs Wellington recalled meat from the same supplier from its stores. One person is believed to have suffered gastric illness. The Hawke's Bay's health protection team was still investigating whether it was due to the same batch of lamb.

Medical Officer of Health Caroline McElnay advised people not to eat meat if it smelt bad, even if it was within its use-by date. Eating rotten meat could cause vomiting and diarrhoea.

Affco operations manager Rowan Ogg said vacuum-packing was a standard part of meat processing operations. Under correct holding temperatures, such meat had a shelf life of 12 weeks.

FOOD ACT RULES

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The Food Act 1981 requires that all food for sale is sound or fit for human consumption. That act and the Fair Trading Act 1986 require that labelling on food is not misleading.

Products must carry a 'best before' sticker.

It is not a requirement for food to carry a ‘packed on' date. Unpackaged food, and food made and sold on the same premises, is exempt from labelling.

It is the responsibility of the manufacturer to determine the shelf life of any product.

If the product requires particular storage conditions, these must be included on the product's labelling.

Information provided by the Ministry for Primary Industries.

- The Dominion Post

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