Treasure hunt time at CVS! All you have to do is find the expired food, and you get a coupon for $2 off a future purchase, for every expired item you find. Ready, go!

It sounds like an extreme couponer’s dream, or perhaps a “supermarket sweep” in reverse – gather up all the food you don’t want, in order to win big. But it’s actually the result of a six-figure legal settlement in the state of Maryland.

On Wednesday, Attorney General Douglas Gansler announced that CVS had agreed to a settlement with the state’s Consumer Protection Division. CVS was accused of selling an unspecified number of expired products, “including baby formula, dairy products and over-the-counter drugs, including infant, children and adult medications and vitamins,” according to a news release announcing the settlement.

Oh, and CVS also apparently threw papers containing patients’ financial and medical information into a dumpster. But that’s another story.

Back to the issue of the expired stuff, though. The Consumer Protection Division alleged that CVS “had inadequate policies and procedures to prevent the sale of expired products.” Even though there are few regulations regarding the sale of past-their-sell-by-date products in all but a handful of communities in the U.S. (read: “Groceries Gone Bad: Does Your Store Sell Expired Food?”), Maryland officials came down on CVS using a broad interpretation of the state’s Consumer Protection Act. Under that law, it is “an unfair and deceptive trade practice to offer for sale a product that is no longer effective for its intended use.” Simply put, said Gansler, “expired products don’t belong on store shelves.”

One could debate the differences among “use by”, “sell by” and “best by”, and argue that products still on shelves past those dates may or may not be “no longer effective” as Maryland claims. But CVS chose to settle. It will pay a fine of $250,000, and implement a new policy in its Maryland stores. Cash registers will prompt cashiers to confirm that products being purchased are not expired. If they are, the settlement states, “CVS will offer consumers a $2 discount coupon toward any purchase if a consumer finds and turns in an expired product (over-the-counter drugs, edible product, and vitamins and dietary supplements) on store shelves.”

So is that a promise or a challenge? If you think CVS’ shelves can look rough on the first day of a good sale, imagine how they’ll look as shoppers hoping to score $2 coupons go hunting for outdated products to turn in.

The coupon offer will remain in place for at least two years in Maryland. And for three years, CVS will have to hire an independent auditor to visit every location in the state, to check on whether the store is complying with the new outdated products policy.

CVS took a lot of heat lately for its long, coupon-filled receipts. It recently promised to shorten them (read: “CVS Relents; Shorter Receipts Coming Within Weeks”). But if store employees don’t watch those expiration dates, the $2 coupons they’ll have to issue could mean those receipts, at least for some customers, may be getting a whole lot longer again.

3 Comments

  1. Government hounding businesses over every detail can, and will, eventually run people out of business. When this sort of thing happens, I tend to think someone did not make the appropriate donations to the appropriate political campaigns (or a competitor made a larger donation). The laws nowadays seem to be selectively enforced! I highly doubt that CVS is the only business in the state that has let expired items remain on the shelf due to being short-staffed. Oh, and by the way, SanDiego, when a company settles, it does not mean they admit to wrongdoing, but that continuing to fight the lawsuit would cost more than the settlement.

    My comments here are merely meant to remind people that what may sound like a good idea, can have horrific repercussions. For example, take a look at our current economy, and think about what has brought us to this point. I’ll give you a BIG hint – it’s government regulations, not capitalism.

  2. SanDiegoInExile says:

    CA has had this for 3+ years. Just this month, I have turned in sunscreen that expired in 2011 (found 4 times over the course of two weeks — they kept putting it BACK ON THE SHELF) and also 4 BOXES of single size Dove Bars (36 in a box?) that are not individually labeled with expiration dates, but the box was dated sell by June 2013. Sure it won’t kill you, but its bad business and if CVS agrees that its wrong, it shouldn’t do it. Made $10 for bringing it to their attention. If I had been from the state weights and measures department, they’d be looking at hundreds or thousands of dollars in fines.

  3. If the government keeps “protecting” us in this manner, we soon won’t be able to afford to buy anything. Government regulations have run amok!

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