A recent investigation by Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) shone the spotlight on city supermarkets over the sale of rotten beef products.
However, if an investigation by The Observer is anything to go by, then most of the pre-packaged commodities in the supermarkets at least come in the right quantities.
On August 1, The Observer obtained samples of pre-packed products including sugar, milk, rice, and salt manufactured locally and availed them to Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) offices in Katwe for re-weighing. The household items were randomly selected from supermarkets around the city.
The samples were only tested for quantity since the major objective of the survey was to determine the weights of such basic pre-packaged products used on a daily basis by people. Issues regarding quality and labelling were not considered during this investigation.
With its packaging stripped off, a kilo of Kinyara sugar posted a gross weight of 1,006.9gm, according to a report prepared by Lawrence Kitimbo, the pre-packaged products inspector at Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS), who carried out the measurements. The weight of packaging material was 7.0gm, according to the UNBS report, summing up to a nominal quantity of 1,0062gm.
A nominal quantity of 2kg Tilda Kibimba rice posted a gross weight of 2,023.9gm, with the packaging material weighing 14.5gm, adding up to 2,009.4gm. Tilda Crystal long grain rice, which was marked 2kg, posted a gross weight 2021.5gm. The weight of packaging material was 14.8g, making a nominal quantity weight of 2,006.7gm.
Other pre-packaged items sampled included salt, rice, milk [from other manufactures], which all passed the test. Only one item failed the random tests. According to the results obtained, a Fresh Dairy Whole milk package labelled one litre registered a deficiency of 30 millilitres. The packaging posted a net volume of 970ml when it was measured in a ‘class III measuring cylinder of capacity 1,000 litres.
However, according to Kitimbo, although a packaging of Fresh Dairy Whole milk appears to have failed the test due to a deficiency of 30ml, the results for such a single sample cannot be legally be relied on to condemn the entire product. He said a single sample cannot meet statistical sampling requirements in pre-packaged inspections.
“The results from fresh dairy cannot be used to generalise the product. Perhaps there was fault with the machine or the sample you chose for this experiment,” he said.
On the other hand, a Jesa Dairy Fresh milk package labelled one litre passed the test, with a 1,010ml reading on the class III measuring cylinder. This means it was in excess by 10ml.
Kitimbo explained that in order to conduct a sample that would fit statistical sampling requirements, he would have to sample approximately 40 packets of the same product.
Before the measurement of each product, the items were emptied from their packaging materials and measured independent of their packaging. Kitimbo explained that this was done so as to establish the actual gross weight and weight of the packaging material of the pre-packaged product.
However, according to the Weight and Measurement rules, there is a tolerable deficiency of +10 or -10 in pre-packaged products. Kitimbo said some of the underweight items can be acceptable but warned some companies that did it intentionally.
“According to the law of pre-packages, there is a tolerable difference of a plus or a minus that is acceptable in the actual content of pre-packages,” he explained, adding, “But we are aware and know that some companies do it intentionally to cheat the consumers.”
Asked what UNBS does to companies that it finds to have used underweight products, the inspector said, “Now when we [UNBS] do our verification work, the measurements are corrected if we find mistakes. But when it is [found during random] inspections, we go to court,” he explained.
Kitimbo said that because of the reports that UNBS receives about underweight products, especially bread and maize flour, the standards body intends to carry out an operation soon.
“Our target is bread and maize flour,” he said. “It is not surprising to find a bag of maize flour purported to be 50kg weighing 42kg and bread, a loaf of 1kg, you find it is 8,000gm or less.”