In a country where millions go hungry and people will eat any food they can find, even if it could be dangerous, how ethical (and safe) is it to throw away old food, asks DietDoc.
Hard on the heels of the Chicken Scandal, comes the Dumped Food Scandal which hit the headlines last week.
According to a report in The Independent on Saturday, a white truck drove into the Pholile Park informal settlement near the Strand in the Western Cape and dumped a load of food items such as biscuits, sweets and packaged fruit juices. Hungry residents consumed the spoiled foods and drinks and soon became ill with symptoms of of food poisoning such as diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, and skin rashes. Emergency services transported more than 100 affected residents to nearby hospitals for treatment. According to reports 150 people suffered the consequences of this food poisoning incident. Investigation of the dumped food items revealed that the "use-by dates" of these foods items had in some cases expired as far back as 2003 (Sapa/News24, 2011).
Further investigation found that these spoiled and expired foods and beverages had allegedly originated from a place called the Simply Value Factory Food Shop. The manager of this shop, Santa Kotze told authorities that H Hearn Refuse Removal had been tasked with disposing the expired food items at a proper dump site in Stellenbosch. H Hearn the manager of the refuse removal company allegedly responsible for removing the food items, stated that a casual labourer from Pholile Park persuaded the driver of the truck to take the food to his home in the informal settlement as he intended opening a spaza shop. Mr Hearn also said that he had removed 14 refuse bags filled with the expired food products when contacted by the police after the inhabitants became ill (Hartley, 2011).
While denials of responsibility and professions of innocence confound the picture, Wilfred Solomons-Johannes, spokesman of the Cape Town Disaster Risk Management Centre, has said that Simply Value Factory Food Shop had followed correct procedures to dispose of the expired food, but that the focus would now be on the driver of the truck, a casual labourer, “who did not carry out instructions” from H Hearn Refuse Removal, the company allegedly hired to do the dumping (Benton, 2011).
Eye Witness News reported that the members of the affected community intend laying criminal charges against the companies involved for dumping the expired, potentially hazardous food (Booi, 2011).
Some questions that arise from this incident are: ‘How should food that is no longer edible be disposed of?’ and ‘What steps can be taken to avoid such incidents?’
These questions need to be addressed not only by the authorities, but also by each member of society who has to dispose of food on which the expiry date has expired or which is spoiled. We live in a country where 1 out of every 5 households suffers from food insecurity and nearly daily hunger (Achmat, 2011). The stark reality is that people who are starving and unable to provide for their families will eat any food they find, even if such food is potentially dangerous.
Those of us who live in cities with garbage removal systems are all aware of the silent figures that appear during the night and rummage through our dustbins looking for scraps. Our landfill dumps are picked over by entire communities who make their living and find their food by scavenging. All these disadvantaged people are exposed to the daily risk of eating contaminated food.
So what should you do when you dispose of food that you no longer want to eat, or that has expired? This is a difficult question because there are always a few cans of food lurking in the back of your grocery cupboard with long expired use-by dates, or once fresh food that has turned mouldy or rancid in your refrigerator or freezer.
Do you throw such cans and mouldy food into your dustbin without a thought to the starving people who may find and consume it? On reflection, most people will be forced to answer "Yes".
As householders let’s make it a rule that we regularly check the use-by dates on our canned, packaged and frozen foods and use the foods long before these dates come up.
Be just as careful with foods hiding in your freezer or fridge.
Remember, the best policy is still to use all foods you buy before they become a hazard to any living creature. Waste not, want not.
It would be a good idea if each municipality would have an expired food site where such food could be incinerated and rendered harmless to life. Most pharmacies nowadays have facilities for destroying expired medicines, but we still don’t have any place where ordinary households can safely dispose of any food that may have inadvertently become dangerous.
In addition, all food retailers no matter how small, should get a wake-up call from government to ensure that any food products that have passed their use-by date are safely disposed of at landfill sites. At the latter sites municipalities should have a system in place to prevent such foods from being picked over by starving people.
But as responsible citizens of this country, we who do have enough food to eat, should make very sure that we never, ever throw food away because it has expired. Rather purchase less food at a time or buy food more frequently to avoid being part of the Dumped Food Scandal.
(Achmat Z (2011). Corporate malfeasance and government duties: 150 poisoned after rating dumped food. Writing Rights, 10 January 2011. http://writingrights.org ; 2011. Booi M (2011). Community to lay charges against companies selling expired food. Eye Witness News. 13 January 2011. http://www.ewn.co.za ; Hartley A (2011). 150 poisoned after eating dumped food. The Independent on Saturday, 10 January 2011. http://www.tios.co.za ; Benton, S (2011). Authorities probe company that dumped ‘sickening’ food. The New Age. 11 January 2011. http://www.thenewage.co.za; Mass poisoning: Food expired in 2003. News24, 10 January 2011, http://www.news24.co.za)