Beware when buying, consuming meat!

19/12/2014 17:16

The Consumer Council of Fiji is once again urging consumers to be vigilant when buying meat for family and end-of-year functions to celebrate Christmas and New Year.

The festive season is known for feasting and high consumption of meat products – chicken, lamb, sausages etc. But there are health and safety risks associated with frozen meat products like chicken and lamb, particularly as we are in the warm season. The warm weather conditions mean that meat and chicken products will spoil quickly if not frozen or stowed properly. The risk from food-borne illness due to contaminated or spoilt food is much higher in the warm season.

The Council is advising consumers that they can easily be distracted by the hype of the festive shopping season and end up overlooking some basic rules when buying meat products. Consumers should remember that when buying meat, safety should always be the most important consideration.

When buying meat, consumers should check for the cleanliness around freezers and the meat section. Dirty conditions such as floors, side of freezers etc may be a sign of the retailer’s low safety and quality standards. Always check that the meat you are buying is kept cold. Chilled meat should be stored below or behind the load line in open freezers. Avoid meat including packed chicken that pile up too high above the freezer; these are at risk of exposure to warmer temperatures.

If the meat in a supermarket freezer is soft, consumers should refrain from buying it unless its fresh. Frozen food when thawed also losses its original shape that can help consumers identify if they have been affected by the traders turning off electricity at night to save cost. If you are buying meat with other groceries, buy the meat last and get it home fast.

Consumers who prefer halal foods should check the retailer’s halal certification and labeling. The certificates are normally displayed in meat section of supermarkets. Do not rely on the verbal advice of shop assistants, but check for written confirmation on the labeling and certificate.

Consumers are also urged to check the weighing scales in meat shops and supermarkets to avoid short weights or being charged the wrong amount. As most retailers now use electronic scales, consumers should view the reading on the scales and the numbers that the scale attendant punches in to ensure that they are being charged the right price for the particular meat product they are buying. Secondly, they should check for a sticker or stamp provided by the Department of National Trade Measurement and Standards (Weights and Measures). This sticker stamp must be pasted on the face of the scale so that consumers can easily see the stamp which carries date, month and year. If the sticker stamp is missing or the date stated on the stamp has expired then the consumers should report the matter to the Department of National Trade Measurement and Standards or the Consumer Council.

Meanwhile, the Council is sending out a warning that it will be keeping a close eye on retail outlets that sell food items during the festive season. Retailers who think that they can get rid of unsold expired stock by selling these products at a reduced price are putting the public at health risk.

Traders are urged to refrain from misleading consumers with unfair deals and misleading advertisements, for instance, if they are selling mutton then they should not advertise it as lamb (A sheep in its first year is called a lamb and its meat is also called lamb while the meat of an adult sheep is mutton).

Consumers must be conscious and ask questions when unsure.