NEW YORK -- Scheduled to air Tuesday, a "Dateline NBC" investigation found supermarkets across the country selling packages of fresh meat that had been redated, according to the network.
Over the course of a five-month, hidden-camera investigation, "Dateline" checked 33 stores in five states, and found redated meat packages in 28 out of the 33 stores, the networksaid. "Dateline" found new dates that extended the selling period of meats and fish by one to seven days, on 201 packages in all.
According to NBC, meat workers and managers told "Dateline" on hidden camera that extending the sell-by dates is against company policy, and they'd never do it.
However, there is no federal regulation requiring meat products to have a calendar date, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A retailer who places a calendar date on meat or poultry products that did not bear a date originally may change the date on products that remain wholesome. According to meat industry sources, it's not uncommon for meat department employees to rewrap and redate packages of meat.
The network did not identify the supermarkets to SN. Executives from seven chains involved declined to be interviewed by "Dateline." According to the network, six of the chains issued statements asserting redating was against company policy, and some promised to launch their own investigations.
Last week, the upcoming report had retailers and other industry observers speculating on the nature of the story.
A source who was contacted by "Dateline NBC" said he was told the news team found meat department employees taking meat from the meat cases, rewrapping and redating it in back rooms, and returning the packages to the cases to be sold.
"I got the impression they visited a lot of stores," said John Stanton, a food industry consultant and professor of food marketing at St. Joseph's University, Philadelphia.
A spokeswoman for Winn-Dixie Stores said she believed the Jacksonville, Fla., chain was included in the story, but wasn't aware of the specifics. "It's sweeps month," said Joanne Gage, senior director of consumer and marketing services for Winn-Dixie, which operates more than 1,100 stores.
Albertson's reportedly is one of the chains included in the report. A spokeswoman said she was not concerned the story would prompt consumers to worry about the safety of fresh meat. "I know six other [retailers] were targeted, and it's an industry issue," said Rhonda Clements, director of external communications for the Boise, Idaho-based chain of more than 2,400 stores. "Our customers know we provide the highest quality and the freshest foods. We're a trusted name."
Several industry sources said the Food Marketing Institute was contacted by "Dateline NBC" on the story. FMI did not return calls from SN seeking comment.