Providing a check on expired drugs
Lately, Nigeria has witnessed increased cases of some heartless human beings with dead conscience relabelling and revalidating dates of expired foods and drugs. The arrests of the perpetrators and confiscations of relabelled expired drugs were carried out by the officials of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) and National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). The news media has thus been awash with stories of seized expired foods and drugs. It was recently reported that N15 million worth of fake expired products was confiscated in Nasarawa State. Just last month, NCS and NAFDAC destroyed N100 million worth of expired medicaments and other items at Seme command of NSC. Some N80 million worth of expired goods were destroyed also in Abuja last month by NAFDAC. It was revealed that some of the products were voluntarily submitted by companies and individuals while others were seized through enforcement.
It is scary to bring to note that while concerned agencies are making efforts to thwart activities of peddlers of expired products, some relabelled expired food and drugs would have made their way to the markets without the agencies’ knowledge. Only the perpetrators nabbed in these nefarious acts made the news. So the big question is: how do consumers identify and recognize relabelled or revalidated food and drugs? Let us now attempt some answers to that multimillion naira poser.
Expiry dates and best-before dates are dates which are interchangeably being used by manufacturers to convey a date when a product is at its peak performance or no longer fit to consume. Technically, there is a slight difference: Expiry dates show the last day that is expected for a product to be used or consumed, while best-before date indicates that as from that date, the product’s freshness along with its quality is no longer guaranteed. Expiry date of a product is safety-based, while the best-before date is quality driven. Both are however important no matter which terminology or wording is used by the manufacturer’s label on the product.
A product’s expiry date or best-before date is usually determined by the shelf life of that product. According to a U.S. Food and Administration website, ‘a product’s shelf life generally means the length of time you can expect a product to look and act as expected and stay safe for use. The length of time varies depending on the type of product, how it is used and how it is stored’.
Personal care products, cosmetics, daily needs, foods, beverages, drugs, toiletries and other consumables and perishables all have varying shelf lives based on product content, raw material quality and sanitary conditions. Temperature, water and air are the main factors which determine the storage and shelf life of a product. For example, drugs are to be kept in a cool and dry place in order to take care of temperature and moisture exposure. Expiry date label on products only holds true for unopened or sealed products but when a sealed product has been opened the best-before date can no longer be relied on.
It is observed that some personal care products like cosmetics, perfumed body spray, makeup and moisturizers, apart from the expiration dates printed on the product’s label, still have some symbols stamped on them, providing more information on the product’s shelf life. Some cosmetics and body spray containers have a little jar icon having a symbol PAO (Period After Opening) which tells that product’s shelf life after opening. This PAO is often shown in months and appears a number followed by letter ‘M’ printed on that open jar icon or below it. This is commonly seen in lotion and shower gel bottles. The period-after-opening (PAO) symbol shows cosmetic product useful lifetime after first opening.
The need for expiry date label checks cannot be overemphasised as consumers are duty-bound to check product expiry dates of food and drugs before purchase and consumption. Foods, particularly poultry and meat, taken well past their expiry may trigger food poisoning and result in symptoms like fever, vomiting, cramping in stomach area, dehydration and diarrhoea. However, some expired products will pose no health problems if consumed; rather they degrade to a lower quality depending on the food type. A school of thought believes that the effectiveness of a drug may decrease overtime but much of the original potency still remains even a decade after the expiration date. Some drugs (especially liquid drugs and antibiotics) are excluded from this category of active drugs after expiry. This is because their potency ends at expiration. Other experts advise consumers to discard all expired drugs despite post-expiration potency to avoid any risk of health challenges from expired drug consumption.
All appropriate and concerned authorities waging war against fake, expired food and drugs are to create fast, easy and enabling environment, devise a technological means for the general public to report any suspected act of expiration date relabelling. The investigation and enforcement unit and intelligence gathering and analysis division of NAFDAC should up their games through information gathered to outwit the antics of those who relabel expired product.
• Ojewale wrote from Lagos.