FROM time to time this column has carried articles alerting consumers as to the dangers of using expired food and drugs and food and drugs smuggled into the country manufactured by producers of questionable reputation. Sometimes food and drugs are imported from reputable countries but not produced there and never sold in their home markets. This is one of the perils of the Free Market where Guyana’s market is inundated with goods from everywhere.
Recently, Dr Shamdeo Persaud, the Chief Medical Officer, found it necessary to again issue a public warning against expired food and drugs. Since he has been Chief Medical Officer, Dr Persaud has ever so often been issuing such timely advisories as consumers have to be constantly reminded of the dangers of expired food and drugs.
Dr Persaud’s recent warnings have been comprehensive and as such we will quote extensively from his statement::-
“The Ministry has been alerting its agencies including the Private Sector that we do not use expired drugs. There is no ‘it expired yesterday so that you could go ahead and take those medications”. A lot of our products are imported in bulk form. We are encouraging that the expiry date is written in the information that is given to the patients so that the patients would know when their supply of drugs would expire”.
Dr Persaud took care to reiterate some of the requirements of the Law “the Law specifically stipulates that food, pharmaceuticals, medical devices must be labelled in the English language first of all and the labels must cover certain areas. The Food and Drugs Act also stipulates the time of expiry date . . . Any food and drug of expired date must be removed from the shelf and destroyed, not resold to our poorer population or less educated persons and put them at an additional health risk”.
Food and drugs are given expiry dates because after those dates, from scientific evidence, such food and drugs, particularly drugs- because ineffectual for the purposes for which they were produced. More importantly – could become toxic, that is poisonous. Ingesting expired drugs could not only cause one’s health to further deteriorate but in extreme cases, cause death.
Because of the shortage of staff and other resources, Dr Persaud and his team are unable to provide the full protection of consumers as they would wish and thus consumers must make their own efforts. In the first place, the consumer must ascertain that he is supplied with the item he intended to purchase and not a substitute or a different product with label resembling it. Then he must check on the expiry date. If the date is altered or removed, then he should not buy the product though it may be offered at a much cheaper price. He must ascertain that the directions are in English and also the country of production. If the buyer cannot read the label, the seller must do so. Finally, the buyer must require a proper bill or receipt for his purchase.
There are other pitfalls of which purchasers must be aware: Consumers must be on the lookout for forgeries which are fairly common on the Guyanese market. These forgeries are mostly imported from East Asia and packed exactly like their Western originals but are usually of lower quality and sell for a cheaper price. Consumers must be wary in particular of buying foods and drugs. Indian pharmaceuticals tend to be of good quality since their Standards organisations are modelled on Western lines and active and also because all the major Western Pharmaceutical companies are established in that country. Pharmaceuticals produced by GPC are done under licence from reputable Western companies and could be safely used.
In buying foods and drugs, consumers are urged to ascertain not only country of production, but the name of the producer. For example, there is a firm in Canada which adopts the well-known product names of companies which have gone out of existence and uses the identical trademarks and labels of the known product; one could see such products as sardines or corned meats sold in the supermarkets. One such company has a well-known Guyanese name!
Consumers should also be on the lookout for attractively packaged cosmetics, soaps, soft drinks, confections and potted foods with strange brand names, mostly smuggled from Suriname which are of low quality.