One of 18 disputed dirty plastic buckets of salted beef arrived in Vava'u last week. Photo/Neiafu Town Officer Vāvā Lapota

The arrival of a shipment of what appears to be dirty plastic buckets full of salted beef in Vava’u without product labels caused disagreements between authorities at the Puatalefusi wharf last week.

Neiafu Town Officer Vāvā Lapota insisted the 18 commercial products should have been confiscated because they did not show expiry dates. He said the fact that the outside of the buckets were covered with dirt could arouse suspicion about the quality of the meat inside.

But they were released after the business owners contacted senior authorities at the Food Division office in Tonga.

Lapota said he was mystified by the way government authorities had handled the long-running disputes and complaints over the sale of expired meat and controversial food products in Vava’u.

He said it was illegal to sell food products without labels on them.

He said he was concerned about the conditions of the beef products after the Food CEO Dr Viliami Manu announced manufacturers had to use proper salt for the production of salted beef and fixed measurement had to be used.

Kaniva News understands the CEO told TBC if the wrong salt was used the beef could be contaminated.

Lapota said the complaints and seizure of expired food in Vava’u had occurred more than a  dozen times and he questioned why the government authorities never applied the three-warning rule and charged the accused.

Lapota said the government’s slack handling of the issue had encouraged certain convenience store owners to continue selling expired food products in Vava’u.

He said he was starting to lose trust in the Ministry.

“It’s a long story,” he told Kaniva News.

Tonga’s Food Act 2014 says:

Every package of food intended for sale in the Kingdom shall contain a label which:

(a) permits its traceability;

(b) sets out such particulars as may be prescribed; and

(c) is in the English or Tongan language or a combination of both.

(2) Where food other than packaged food is displayed for sale, it shall be labelled as prescribed in regulations made under this Act.

CEO Response

Kaniva News has asked the Ministry’s CEO Dr Viliami Manu to respond to Lapota’s statements.

In his response Dr Manu said the responsibility of the Ministry was to make sure the food products could not affect the consumers’ health.

He said it would be an offence if someone sold foods that affected people’s health. They had to be warned three times and if they continued breaking the law they would be charged.

“The accused would face losing their business license or imprisonment for eight years or pay a fine of TP$100,000,” Dr Manu said.

CEO Manu did not respond to Lapota’s complaint about the buckets of salted beef being released from the wharf.

A comment on Lapota’s Facebook page by  a Facebook user who went by the name Isileli Aholelei, and who claimed he was from the Food Division claimed the disputed salted beef was ordered to be released because they could still be consumed.

He said the Department had been working on the “labels of all the meats distributors in Tonga.”

‘Aholelei said this was the same thing they did for some repacked food products including flour, sugar, chicken, salt and mutton flaps.

They were allowed to be sold without labels because the Department was still working to have them ready for use, he said.

Aholelei also said they inspected suppliers on a weekly basis to make sure they maintained hygiene standards.

Food products seized and destroyed

As Kaniva News reported on April 22, a complaint from the Neiafu Town Officer led to the seizure of expired goods from a number of  convenience stores.

We also reported claims that a number of convenience stores in Neiafu hid their expired goods in other places when authority inspected their stores.

Before that incident we reported that around 400 boxes of rotting chicken had been destroyed after authorities inspected a refrigerated container at a Chinese shop in Neiafu in February.

Bags of expired flour and rotting salted beef had been found at this store before the February bust.

In September 2019 authorities destroyed 45 buckets of rotting salted beefs at Kalaka landfill site.

The main points

  • The arrival of a shipment of what appears to be dirty plastic buckets full of salted beef in Vava’u without product labels caused disagreements between authorities at the Puatalefusi wharf last week.
  • Neiafu town officer Vāvā Lapota insisted the 18 commercial products should have been confiscated because they did not show expiry dates. He said the fact that the outside of the buckets were covered with dirt could arouse suspicion about the quality of the meat inside.

For more information

Vava‘u authorities destroy boxes of rotting chicken

Busted again: Vava‘u shops caught selling expired food