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NEW YORK - Seven of the major U.S. supermarket chains were targeted on Tuesday in a hidden camera report for "Dateline NBC" that accused some 33 stores of changing dates on meat, poultry and seafood packages.
The hour-long TV program revealed a five-month-long undercover video investigation in which Dateline used a special marking system to monitor the "sell by" dates assigned to packages by meat department personnel. Reporters said they found more than 200 packages of re-dated meat products at stores across the country, including Kroger, Publix, Albertson's, Pathmark, Winn-Dixie, A&P, and Safeway, with "sell by" extensions ranging between one and seven days.
Dateline NBC, which says its investigation stemmed from a tip, interviewed several of the chains' meat clerks and managers with a hidden camera, and all denied the practice. Although no supermarket executive went on record for the broadcast, six companies provided the network with prepared statements denouncing the practice of re-dating labels. Pathmark admitted changing dates using a "dual dating policy." The Carteret, N.J.-based chain added that all its store-cut meat is "removed from sale within 72 hours".
The Food Marketing Institute's Dr. Jill Hollingsworth was also interviewed on the program, stressing the point that sell-by dates are not required by law, but instead have been performed as a good-faith practice since 1972.
A story that ran on Tuesday in the Florida Times-Union newspaper of Jacksonville said officials at Winn-Dixie Stores Inc. are questioning employees in its Atlanta and Texas stores to see whether they improperly changed sell-by dates on packages of meat to extend their shelf life.
"It was not something that was alleged in Jacksonville," Mickey Clerc, a Winn-Dixie spokesman, told the newspaper.
Clerc said the company will reprimand or fire any employee who participates in that kind of action, willingly or carelessly, noting that the company has fired employees in the past for doing such a thing and is investigating to decide what course of action will be taken now.
He said the company's policy is to sell meat by the sell-by dates listed on the packages, and if a customer is not satisfied with a product, he or she can return it for a refund or another product.
The entire transcript of the TV report is available on Dateline NBC's Web site: http://www.msnbc.com/news/753195.asp?0dm=-21GV#BODY.