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Health district: Check ‘best by’ dates before purchase

A Springfield man was surprised when he learned a store that recently sold him food with a “best by” date from last year wasn’t in violation of state codes and the health district said many people don’t know the food laws.

Johnny Huntington bought a Slim Jim sausage and cheese snack from the Quality Food and Tobacco Mart, 2160 E. Main St., on Monday. He opened it after leaving and saw that the cheese was brown and as hard as plastic, he said.

“Right as I opened it, I looked and said, ‘Wow! Look at that,’” Huntington said.

The Slim Jim package said the snack was “best by” December 2013. The Clark County Combined Health District said it is it the job of the consumer and not the seller to check dates on processed foods before a sale, even with products such as milk.

If a product is packaged in one location and shipped to a convenience or grocery store for sale, the processor marks the food with the best-by dates voluntarily for customers, said Clark County Health Sanitarian Dustin Ratliff. The dates are “quality indicators” — meaning the food past that time might lose freshness or taste, but doesn’t mean the food is spoiled or unsafe, he said.

“But in general when a food doesn’t taste right, look right or smell right — when in doubt, throw it out,” Ratliff said.

Store employees declined to comment on Huntington’s Slim Jim purchase, but said they check their shelves monthly and the product could have been hidden from their view upon their own inspections. If a purchase of an out-of-date food is made at their store, the employees said the customer can return the product for a refund or exchange.

The health district receives complaints about out-of-date food, Ratliff said, but can only give citations to stores that are selling out-of-date baby food or infant formula. Those two products are the only products Ohio codes specify cannot be on store shelves after their best-by dates, he said.

Other processed foods are at the discretion of the seller to remove and consumers should be cautious to check their products before buying, health district employees said.

Sanitarians inspect food vendors on four different levels, one being the lowest risk and four, the highest, Ratliff said. At stores such as Quality Food and Tobacco Mart, where they sell pre-packaged, processed foods, inspections occur once per year.

The Springfield News-Sun requested Quality Food’s latest inspection report. The inspection was completed Aug. 1 and states the store didn’t have any health or food violations.

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