The practice is widespread in villages, where most items are way past their sell by dates

Commerce: Although the practice has declined, retail and wholesale shops in Trashigang still sell expired goods, residents say.

Records maintained with the Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) show that most of the seized goods from various shops and hotels around Trashigang are soft drinks like Pepsi, Coca cola and Sprite.

Other food items like biscuits, lentils, rice and noodles were also seized in the past seven months. Most of the seized goods were from places like Kanglung, Rangjung, and Khaling while some were from Wamrong, Trashigang and Rongthong and Trashigang town.

These are also places where the resident population is comparatively high. For instance, the residence population of Kanglung alone is more than 11,000.

Last year 850kg of rice was seized from a community school in Udzorong after students started getting sick of food poisoning. Earlier this year, three Santro cars full of goods were also seized from a wholesale shop in Trashigang town.  There are about 70 shops in  Trashigang town.

Recently, one of the hoteliers in Trashigang town had to dispose off several loaves of bread that he bought from one of the bakeries in town. Another shopkeeper found a cartoon of expired Pepsi.

Kuensel found that some of the items lying around in a lot of the shops had surpassed their expiry dates. It was also learnt that most of the expired items are stored in the warehouses.

“The ones that are displayed in wholesale and retail shops are the restocked ones so that shopkeepers who buy items in bulk don’t notice,” a town resident under anonymity said.

Wholesale dealers however claim that the shops buy expired food items from distributors in Samdrupjongkhar at subsidised rates and sell at MRPs to earn marginal profits.

Although shopkeepers deny selling expired goods, one of the whole sellers in town said that the practice was once common but not anymore.

“At times, we get already expired goods from the distributors because some of the boxes don’t have batch numbers stamped,” a wholesale dealer said. “It is food items like mayonnaise, cornflakes and can items that have short expiry dates.”

Another wholesale dealer said BAFRA officials conduct routine checks on the goods and keep them in check. “If people are complaining, then why are they still buying from us?”

Small shop owners away from the town said they have to depend on the whole sellers to restock their shops. “We have to buy the goods on credit and unless they stop the practice, we are also helpless,” a shop owner from Melphey said.

The practice was found to be widespread in villages. In 2013, scores of sacks (50kg) full of biscuits were also seized from almost every shop in Bartsham.

A shopkeeper from Phongmey said they do check at the expiry dates while procuring goods.

“While we procure most of the items from Samdrupjongkhar, we buy beverages from Trashigang,” he said. “Instances of expired items are there and in such cases, we return them.”

In May 2013, BAFRA seized large quantities of food items from the two Trashigang wholesale dealers.

BAFRA officials said they carry out monthly inspections and if any expired goods are found, the goods are seized and defaulters imposed penalties according to the Food Act.

“We cannot say such practices are common here but shopkeepers have become very clever these days,” BAFRA officer, Pema Jamtsho said. “Though we carry out surprise inspections, they still seem to be aware of it and hide the expired goods.”

As per the Food Act of Bhutan 2005, if a shop is found selling expired goods, it should be levied with a fine 10 times higher than the actual cost of the item. Proper labeling of goods is also necessary.

By Tshering Wangdi,  Trashigang