When you walk into a store you shouldn’t feel like a contestant on The Price is Right, guessing the prices of items being offered sale. Under the Consumer Protection Act, merchants are required to display the price of goods near the goods and in a manner that is clearly visible to customers. Additionally, merchants cannot offer goods at one price and then charge you a different price. For example, if the price displayed for a can of corned beef is $2.99, the store cannot turn around and charge you $4.99 when you check out. This is true even if the marked price was a genuine error, the store must still allow you to purchase the goods for the marked price.
What about expired goods, can stores offer goods for sell after the marked “best by,” “use by,” or “sell by” date has passed? In general, yes, expired goods may be offered for sale, but only if the store follows the requirements of the Consumer Protection Act. First, expired goods must be displayed in an area that is clearly set apart from non-expired goods. Second, expired goods must be clearly marked as expired. And finally, expired goods may not be sold for more than 50 percent of their original retail price.
Okay, stores can sell expired goods, but are expired goods safe to consume? The Consumer Protection Act prohibits merchants from representing that a food, beverage, drug, or other ingestible good is safe for human consumption if it is not. So even if a store complies with the expired goods pricing and labeling requirements, it cannot sell goods that are not safe to consume. According to the USDA, with the exception of infant formula, expiration dates tend to go to the quality of food and not necessarily to safety. Infant formula should not be purchased or consumed after the marked expiration date. Also, when purchasing goods such as meat and produce, look for visible mold and/or discoloration—food that is moldy or that smells or tastes spoiled should not be consumed. For more information on the safety of expired goods, you can visit the USDA’s website: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/food-labeling
Merchants who violate the Consumer Protection Act are subject to civil fines of up to $2,500 per violation and may even be subject to criminal penalties if the violation is done knowingly or recklessly. You can report violations of the Act by submitting a complaint form. You can pick up a complaint form at the Civil Division on Capitol Hill, or you can request a form via email to email@example.com.
The information contained in this article is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal or health advice to any individual or entity. This information is not intended to create, and the reading of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. (Teresita Sablan)