BEIRUT: The total quantity of expired food and drugs that shocked the country when discovered several months ago has risen to over a thousand tons, while the start of a lengthy process to destroy them has been slated for September. A senior source at the Environment Ministry told The Daily Star Tuesday the quantity of expired food and drugs seized has increased to around 1,100 tons, 300 tons more than the original quantity of goods discovered in April.
The first discovery of the expired goods sparked an uproar in the country, particularly after it was revealed some of the spoiled meat was being sold to restaurants.
The government has scrambled to repair the food industry’s damaged reputation, bringing in experts and running food safety sessions for restaurant workers.
But the discovery of food violations has continued. In June, a Sidon fast-food shop was found to have hundreds of kilos of expired food in containers with altered labels, and there have been other expired food discoveries.
The 300 tons of recently discovered goods was considered to be mostly food, the source said. There are 300 tons of expired medicine and 800 tons of bad food in total that have been confiscated by the government.
After the initial discovery the government has worked to determine what to do with massive quantities of goods that are now stowed in government and private shipping warehouses. A committee of representatives from a number of ministries has deliberated for months over the process of destruction.
“What’s the urgency? The medicines are stored and the foods have been confiscated, we are dedicated to moving in the right direction,” the environmental source said.
The committee’s final recommendation is a multistep process that will go into destroying the expired drugs and food. The environmental source said small quantities, about 10 tons, of drugs and food will be incinerated in September which will be followed by testing and a public report on the environmental impact of the burnings.
If the results indicate minimal environmental impact the burning will go forward. Chlorine based drugs are to be excluded from the burnings and the food will be transported to burning facilities in refrigerated vehicles in relatively small quantities.
“The food will be transported by cooled cars in small amounts. And the cars which will take the food stuffs will continue to have cooling while they are waiting at the factories,” the source said.
Because the government does not have its own incinerators cement companies are donating the use of theirs for the burning process. Usually small quantities of expired drugs and food are re-exported instead of destroyed.
Municipal mayors from the areas where the incinerators are located have been consulted about the possible burnings.
Waste incineration is a global practice that experts say can generally be done safely. But burning is also usually conducted by waste management services in highly regulated facilities.