When handed faulty products, consumers must fight till manufacturers are brought to book

Attracted by the ‘buy one, get one free’ offer, like any one else, Devi purchased badam mix of a reputed company from a big supermarket in the city in January. The life of the product was one year from the date of manufacture (December 2011).

In February, Devi’s husband mixed a portion of the mix in milk and drank it. Later, when Devi mixed it for herself, she was shocked to find numerous worms wriggling in the drink. Immediately, she checked her husband’s used cup and found many dead worms. She emptied the balance in the pack on to a plate and saw lots of worms squirming around. Devi’s husband had a stomach upset and nausea, and the family, a sleepless night.

The next morning, Devi called the customer care number cited on the label and narrated the incident. The call was transferred to the department of quality control and the person on the other side listened patiently, took her number and told her he would revert to her within half an hour. However, there was no response, and when she spoke to them again, after several attempts, she was told that according to ‘Factory Law’ it would take seven working days for them to comment on the issue.

Irked, Devi complained to the Health Officer of the Corporation who assured her of immediate action. After he had acted, the supermarket apologised to her for the inconvenience caused. But Devi wanted a response from the manufacturers, and so she contacted the District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum over phone.

They suggested two approaches to her problem — file a complaint with the District Forum, seeking damages or get the sample tested from the Government Laboratory — King’s Institute, Guindy. Devi decided to go for the second, but the lab officials refused to take the sample stating it had to come through the Designated Officer.

The Food Safety and Standards Rules, formulated under the Food Safety and Standards Act, provides for appointment of Food Safety Officers (Food Inspectors) and Designated Officers in the States who have the authority to investigate when a complaint is given in writing and take action.

Devi gave a written complaint to the Food Inspector who visited her after she complained to the Designated Officer over phone. She handed over the opened pack and the other sealed one along with the original purchase bill.

A month later, when she contacted the Designated Officer, he invited her to his office and was full of appreciation for her determination to get justice.

Ten days later she received the action taken report from him stating that instructions were issued to the manufacturers to recall all the packets of that particular batch and destroy them.

What is of concern is that many people would have consumed the product before it was recalled.

Thus, immediate action is required in such matters. The most important lesson is for the public to know that there are food authorities waiting to act upon a complaint registered. It is for us to come forward and complain so that the culprits are brought to book.

However, the apathetic approach of the manufacturer is certainly inexcusable.

(The writer works with CAG, which offers free advice on consumer complaints to its members. For membership details / queries contact 2491 4358 / 2446 0387 or helpdesk@cag.org.in)


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