In a desperate bid to rescue their businesses from incurring further losses during this restrictive period, some bar owners and illegal alcohol sellers in Harare are selling expired alcohol at giveaway prices, in most cases to unsuspecting imbibers, 263Chat Business has established.
When President Emmerson Mnangagwa first announced lockdown on March 30 with measures compelling restaurants and bars to shut their doors, most bar owners were left stranded with huge stocks of lager that was already nearing “best-by” dates.
And now, popular leisure spots such as Gazaland area in Highfields and Zindoga in Waterfalls among others have seen an increasing number of bars selling lager and ciders way past their “best-by” dates at very cheap prices.
A pint of lager is selling at US$0.50 (ZWL$ 40) per pint and US$1(ZWL$ 80) per quart with a six pack of cans lager sold for US$ 2 (ZWL$160).
For perspective, the official selling price of a pint of lager is ZWL$ 60 and ZWL$ 120 for a quart.
“Remember that even before Covid-19 lockdown, lager sales were very low as you know price of lager was high due to inflation when we began the year,” said one bar owner at Zindoga area who refused to be named.
“As a result, our lager stocks from as way back as January are yet to be sold because of the restrictions from the lockdown which started in March. Since then, we have not been selling as much and even when measures were relaxed we still couldn’t sell as much as we wanted. So we found ourselves with massive stock of beer that we can’t afford to spill just because it’s expired,” he added.
The best-by dates on pasteurized beer – including most lagers is usually three to four months after manufacture, industry experts say.
263Chat Business went undercover at one bottle store at Gazaland in Highfields were expired black label cans were selling for US$ 1 for 3 items and discovered beer with best-by date dating 8 February 2020.
In some instance the inscription showing the expiry dates of these lager beers is obliterated such that the consumer will not notice that the product is past its best-by date.
However, some canny bottle store owners, for fear of persecution are channeling the expired beer to shebeens within the neighborhoods and to illicit alcohol sellers in the streets.
At these shebeens, revelry spans well into the wee hours disregarding the curfew.
“The sale of expired products is a cause for concern. We focus on the basic foods but we also do not advise the sale of such products past their dates of sale. But let me hasten to say that we also advocate for consumer responsibility because it’s a dual way. Businesses are in business and will do anything to have their profits so we want consumers to disregard this expired beer when they realize they have passed their expiry dates,” Consumer Council of Zimbabwe, director, Roseline Siyachitema said.
The development has divided opinion across Zimbabwean society with some imbibers expressing indifference towards consuming expired beer while others are deeply concerned.
“We have been drinking this beer for long and no one has fallen ill. Remember alcohol doesn’t expire it matures with age,” said one imbiber.
There is no evidence that points to immediate health dangers of drinking expired beer except that the taste and smell may change and the beer becomes “flat”.
Some scientists go further to say expired lager beer stays drinkable much longer due to the alcohol and hops that act as preservatives.
But despite this, some medical experts differ,
“All I can say that expiry date is put for a reason which may include toxicity from chemical degradation and possibly microorganism colonization,” Clinical Oncologist Dr Anna Nyakubau weighed in.
In 2015, a Savemor shop manager in Plumtree was slapped with a US$ 100 fine by Plumtree magistrate Livard Philemon for displaying expired goods for sale.