N E W Y O R K, Dec. 6, 2001 -- Most people wouldn't buy milk or meat without checking the expiration date — but how many of us check the dates on aspirin or condoms before getting their items rung up at the drugstore?
Not many, it seems. A nine-month investigation by the consumer affairs department in New York's Nassau County found hundreds of expired goods being offered for sale at big-name drugstores.
The department ended up citing more than 100 drugstores for selling expired goods. Many ended up paying thousands of dollars in fines, according to Nassau County consumer affairs investigator Roger Bogsted.
"It was a total of 120 stores, but many were parts of chains which exist throughout this nation," Bogsted told ABCNEWS. "There is no question it's a nationwide problem."
During their probes, County Executive Tom Gulotta said investigators went into an number of stores and found hundreds of items in just an hour that were for sale beyond their expiration dates.
Fines for Outdated Drugs
Rite Aid was one of four major drugstore chains that was required to pay thousands of dollars in fines to the Long Island county for selling expired products, says Gulotta.
It wasn't the first time: In 1999, California officials found that Rite Aid stores statewide were selling out-of-date goods. At that time, investigators discovered condoms for sale that were four years past their expiration date — too old to rely on for birth control or disease prevention. The chain wound up paying $1.1 million in fines to the state.
One California customer, Dong Wong, said he was surprised when he discovered that he had bought expired goods from the drugstore.
"Rite Aid is a big chain and I think they are big enough to take care of this problem," Wong said.
Nassau County fined Rite Aid $17,650. In a statement, Rite Aid said "We've retrained our stores and store managers on procedures and believe we have greatly improved compliance and continue to work hard on it."
No Guarantees Beyond Expiration Date
Good Morning America consumer correspondent Greg Hunter joined Bogsted as he scanned drugstore shelves for expired products in Nassau County last week.
At one Genovese pharmacy, which is owned by the Eckerd Chain, they found 38 outdated products, including a pregnancy test that expired three months ago. They also discovered contraceptive gel that expired in June and prenatal vitamins that expired in August.
Bogsted said consumers who don't check the dates may end up buying old products that may not work.
"They are not getting the medicinal value of the item," Bogsted said. "The expiration date is on there for a reason. Because they're saying we cannot guarantee this item is going to work beyond this date."
Consumers Rarely Notice?
In a letter to ABCNEWS' Good Morning America, Genovese's parent company, Eckerd Drugs, said that the company's stores, "strive to offer only in-date merchandise to ensure the quality of our products and satisfaction of our customers."
It also claimed it was "rare" for a customer to find an out-of-date item.
Nassau county has fined Eckerd a total of $27,325, for more than 1,000 expired items found at its Genovese stores.
But Eckerd is not alone: The largest drug store chain on Long Island, CVS, shelled out $42,350 in fines for its expired products. At CVS, investigators found outdated children's pain reliever, lice shampoo and contraceptive foam.
The company says they "regularly review thousands of shelf items to ensure they do not include expired goods" and are "reminding managers of the importance of continuously checking sell-by dates on all products."
The oldest product Hunter found was at a Walgreens store: a bottle of lice shampoo that expired in 1997. The expiration date was nearly impossible to read — a problem he found with many other products as well.
Walgreens was fined a total of $5,225. The company said in a letter that it has "procedures in place to prevent the sale of outdated merchandise … we're re-emphasizing these procedures."
A Nationwide Problem
Hunter found that many customers don't check the expiration dates because they trust that a big-name drugstore chain like this one wouldn't sell them an out-of-date product.
"It's horrendous, it's disgraceful," one woman told Hunter after learning that a product she was looking at expired in June 2000.
Bogsted said exposing companies that violate the law may have a stronger impact than the fines.
"I think a lot of these chains will sit up and say, 'Hey, we don't want the bad publicity, we are going to come into compliance,'" he said.
Gregory Hunter is Good Morning America's Consumer Correspondent. Hunter has won numerous awards for his consumer and investigative reports.