News 12 Special Assignment: Babies At Risk: A System Breakdown

Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013

News 12 Special Assignment Babies at Risk: A System Breakdown

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. (WRDW) -- A News 12 investigation shows local stores are dropping the ball when it comes to the safety of your children, and what we've uncovered could change a state law.

More than 3 years ago, News 12 exposed a widespread problem after we were able to buy expired baby formula, and a lot of it, in Richmond, Columbia, and Aiken Counties. In 2010, every store promised to fix this, but we found the problem is still on store shelves. Once again, we're on your side, asking why the system in place to protect your babies is still broken.

Little Jazlyn's story could spark big change.

She was already small for her age, so her mother was extra worried after the four-month-old kept throwing up after every bottle. One day, she noticed an expired coupon fell out of her formula can.

"I kind of stopped," she remembered. "And I was like, 'wait a minute.'" She immediately looked at the can. The formula was expired too.

"Immediately, I was like, 'oh my gosh,' you know. This is what's making her sick."

On top of that, Jazlyn was born with laryngomalacia, a condition that blocks her airway. She had surgery when she was only 9 weeks old, but she'll likely need another in the future. "And then with her condition of her vomiting, she had an increased risk of, you know, choking to death," her mom told News 12.

She took Jazlyn to the doctor's office, and we took a little shopping trip.

It's the same shopping trip we went on in 2010.

Back then, we went to eleven stores. Six of them sold us expired formula.

This time, we only found expired formula in one store in Georgia; we bought some at the BiLo on Wrightsboro Road.

It seems to be a much bigger problem, however, in South Carolina. You could say the problem in Aiken County is now worse than it was several years ago. Two of the very stores that sold us expired formula before and promised it would never happen again, sold it to us again: the Publix on Martintown Road in North Augusta and at the Kroger on Knox Avenue. We also found out of date formula at the CVS and Walgreens on Richland Avenue in Aiken.

In all, we bought almost $170 dollars of expired baby formula, and if that's not surprising enough, listen to this: we bought a can of formula that expired in November of 2012. The manager at that store told me that was impossible because his employees check the shelves once a month. Clearly, our receipt showed otherwise.

Meredith: " This could happen to any parent in our area at any time."
Jazlyn's mother: "True."
Meredith: "How does that make you feel?"
Jazlyn's mother: "Angry."

After we showed her copies of our receipts, Jazlyn's mother showed us hers. She bought five cans from the Walmart on Richland Ave in Aiken. She says four of them were expired. After she brought it to their attention, we went shopping there to and are happy to report we didn't find any there.

But again, we found it at five other places.

This makes Jazlyn's mom wonder who's protecting your child?"

We wondered that too, especially since not much has seemed to change after our first investigation, so we took what we found to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, the agency who's job it is to oversee infant formula.

DHEC didn't seem too concerned that expired formula is still on store shelves.

"Offenses of this nature, when it comes to infant formula, this one is a minor violation," said Jim Beasley, a DHEC spokesperson.

"Anybody that could say this is not important, I think they need to have their head examined. Because it's a no brainer to me," said South Carolina State Representative Bill Hixon. He was so upset about what we found, he's now working to make it illegal for stores to sell you expired formula.

Meredith: "I just want children to be protected."
Representative Hixon: "And no doubt in my mind, I want that too. And with your help, we can get this done."

Apparently, exposing the problem hasn't been enough for stores to change.

A new law might have to now step in to make them. That's exactly what's happened in some other states. It's now against the law in California to sell expired formula. Meanwhile, New York and New Jersey have collected millions of dollars in fines. Walmart, Target, Rite Aid, Kmart, and CVS have all had to pay big bucks.

So what about in our area?

In 2010, we took this to the agency overseeing this in Georgia. At the time, the Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture admitted the system was broken, and said his agency was way understaffed.

In South Carolina, again, DHEC considers the sale of expired infant formula a minor violation, but after our interview in Columbia, we learned there might be more to the story. DHEC has some explaining to do. We'll talk more about that tomorrow on News 12 at 11 o'clock.

We do want to mention, we spoke with every one of the stores where we bought expired formula. Each claim to have policies in place to prevent this from happening, but as you've seen, it still happens. Below you can read each store's response:

"At all our stores we have procedures in place to routinely check the expiration dates on perishable items, and we take those procedures very seriously. Customer safety is our primary concern and we continue to be diligent in our efforts to monitor all product expiration dates."

Phil Caruso
Media Relations
Walgreen Co.

"CVS Pharmacy has a clear product removal policy in place to help ensure that items are removed from store shelves before they reach their expiration dates, which includes weekly audits of date coded items. Any unintentional deviations from this policy that are brought to our attention are quickly rectified for customers. We are fully committed to maintaining inventory management practices to prevent expired products from being sold to customers and we apologize that baby formula was sold at one of our stores past its expiration date."

Mike DeAngelis
CVS Pharmacy
Director, Public Relations

“Food safety is a number one priority for us at Publix and we never want to disappoint our customers knowingly. As a result Publix has increased the number of shelf inspections to try to eliminate the number of out of date products in stock.”

Brenda Reid
Media and Community Relations Manager

“Food safety is our top priority at Kroger. We are very disappointed to learn that you were able to purchase baby food last month that had passed its expiration date. That is not in keeping with our practices and procedures. We’ve taken immediate steps to ensure that all baby products in all of our stores have not expired.”

Glynn Jenkins
Director of Communications and Public Relations
The Kroger Co.

“Our stores have stringent policies in place to ensure we provide our customers fresh, properly dated products. There are several checkpoints for our store associates during stocking and straightening to ensure this occurs. This was a miss on our part. Policies may be perfect, but people are not. The error was corrected immediately once brought to our attention, and we appreciate the station for doing so. We have already turned this situation into a valuable reminder to all of our store teams.”

Brian Wright
Senior Director, Communications & Community

Even though we did not purchase expired formula at the Aiken Walmart, we also contacted the company for a response as well. This is what Walmart had to say about Jazlyn's mother's claims:

“All of our stores, including our Aiken store, have a process to regularly check and remove merchandise from our shelves prior to a product’s expiration date. We also have a third party inspection team that conducts monthly audits at our stores across the country to help ensure the quality of our food on our shelves. Our store in Aiken follows these procedures and, after becoming aware of this, immediately checked the store’s shelves. We didn’t find any expired baby formula and we have not had other customer complaints.”

Kayla Whaling
Walmart spokeswoman

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