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Check the expiration date on foods

October 8, 2009 | 11:55 am

MilkA study of Los Angeles food markets has found high numbers of products with expired freshness dates. The study was conducted primarily in markets in low-income neighborhoods in Los Angeles, but it's possible the sale of expired foods is a problem elsewhere, said author of the study LaVonna Lewis, a professor of Policy, Planning and Development at USC.

The study, which began in April 2008, and ended in February, enlisted 90 members of the community to keep checklists of what they encountered during their food shopping trips. A total of 657 checklists were submitted. The surveyed stores were primarily in the South Los Angeles area, but some checklists were submitted on stores in other communities. The stores included small markets and large supermarket chain stores.

The shoppers found at least one expired poultry, beef of dairy product in about one-third of the stores visits made over the study period. In 18% of the visits, residents found at least three expired poultry, beef or dairy items.

In an analysis of five stores that were heavily surveyed, the rates of expired poultry ranged from 19.2% to 39.5%. The range for expired beef was 20% to 41.8% and for dairy products, 26% to 45.4%.

The shoppers, however, found sufficient access to special diet foods, such as low-salt, low-sugar and lactose-free foods.

The study was sponsored by the Community Health Councils Inc., a project that addresses healthcare inadequacies in communities in a partnership with USC. Lewis presented the data last month at the 2009 California Reach Us Conference and is preparing her findings for publication in a scientific journal.

Future studies will try to determine if expired food products are found more often in low-income areas, Lewis said.

"It's a quality question," she said. "Shouldn't people have access to fresh, healthy foods no matter where they live? It's also a resource question. If you have limited resources, aren't those resources used less effectively if the food you purchase in your neighborhood is quickly out of date?"

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Tim Boyle  /  Getty Images