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Madhya Pradesh High Court dismisses Coca-Cola’s request to dismiss the retailer’s lawsuit alleging that it sold expired Maaza

[Hindustan Coca Cola Beverages Pvt. Ltd. vs The State of Madhya Pradesh]

Coca-Cola contended that since the merchant sold the product after its expiration date, it could not be held accountable. However, the Court decided that the producer cannot avoid responsibility for a store selling an expired goods.

The Madhya Pradesh High Court recently observed that it was the duty of the manufacturer to see that none of its expired product remains in the store of the wholesaler distributor or seller.

Justice Vivek Rusia said the manufacturer cannot shirk its liability by arguing that it was the seller who was selling unsafe products.  

The Court made the observations while refusing to quash the summons issued by a Magistrate against Hindustan Coca Cola Beverages and its nominee in a complaint related to sale of expired Maaza Mango Drink.

It noted that a manufacturer or a packer of an article of food is liable if it does not meet the requirements under the Food Safety & Standard Act. 

The distributor, packers, wholesaler and retailer sell the goods on behalf of the manufacturer and all of them work under a contract, it added.

Thus, the Court said the manufacturer is also a seller and it is his duty to ensure that unsafe food products are not sold.

“Therefore, it is the duty of the manufacturer to see that none of its product is there in the store of wholesaler, distributor or seller and before its expiry date, it should be removed or should have been recalled. Therefore, the manufacturer cannot shirk from its liability that it was seller who was selling unsafe product.”

The case originated in March 2013 when the Food Safety Officer in Dewas took a sample of ‘Maaza Mango Drink’ from a restaurant. It was found to be unsafe for consumption due to fungus growth formation on the neck and mouth of the bottle and also on the product’s surface.

After grant of sanction, the Food Safety Officer in March 2014 filed a complaint in the matter. On August 20, 2014, a Judicial Magistrate First Class issued summons in the case.

Challenging the summons, the petitioners argued that the product was kept by the seller for sale even after the expiry of date of use and thus the manufacturer cannot be held responsible. 

The Court was told the product was distributed to the stockists and retailers by specifically mentioning its date of manufacture as well as the period under which it was permissible for use. 

However, the bench rejected the argument saying no document was filed to prove when the product had reached the restaurant or when it was sold or dispatched from the manufacturing unit.

Whether it was sold to retailer / Accused No.1 prior to expiry date or after, is a matter of evidence,” it added.

On the argument against validity of sanction in the case, Justice Rusia said the trial court can examine the issue during the trial. 

Consequently, the Court dismissed the petition.

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