First came the irritation when Deneen Wyman discovered she had bought expired baby formula at an area Walmart store on Sunday. Then came the added insult when she sought a refund and was sold yet another baby formula that had been outdated since May.
It wasn't an isolated incident.
Wyman, a handful of other local shoppers and Tampa Bay Times reporters have found dozens of expired merchandise on the shelves at Walmart stores in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. In addition to the Walmart store where Wyman shopped, The Times found three more Walmart locations in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties had expired goods on the shelves on Tuesday, from three-week-old expired sour cream to Gerber brand butternut squash and potato baby food that expired in February. Reporters also found expired prenatal and children's vitamins, children's allergy and fever medication and baby formula.
Walmart took notice of the issue Tuesday, both at the corporate level and at the St. Petersburg location cited by Wyman, where workers were busy rechecking expiration dates Tuesday morning.
"We want all of our customers to have the best experience possible while shopping with us, and we take out-of-date merchandise seriously. We are currently working to address the situation," said Charles Crowson, senior manager with Walmart's corporate communications.
Officials with Walmart's local management had reached out to at least one local customer, Terri Lipsey Scott, who had complained about the products on Facebook on Tuesday.
"I returned to the store to see if anything had changed and was approached by the store manager," Scott said. "He promised me that they were making an effort to clear the inventory of old merchandise and were bringing in staff from other stores to do so."
Wyman bought Enfamil Reguline formula from the Walmart Neighborhood Market at 1794 22nd St. S. for her son during what she hoped would be a quick trip over the long weekend. Wyman had moved to a midtown neighborhood in St. Petersburg a month ago, but didn't shop regularly at that Walmart. She didn't notice until she got home that the formula she bought for her infant son was expired. It had expired on Sept. 1, just a few days prior.
"So I went back to the store and spoke to customer service. They gave me a refund and apologized, so I changed out the milk," she said.
When she got home a second time, she noticed that the second one she had purchased was also expired. This time the expiration date was May 1.
"I usually shop at Publix downtown but they don't sell this brand," Wyman said. "But I know I would have never had this problem at any Publix location. What really bothers me is that it's happening in a community that's already poverty stricken and this community depends on this store."
Scott posted about her experience on Facebook Monday with photos showing expired nicotine lozenges, expired fiber supplement and expired baby food. The post went viral with more than 80 comments as of midday Tuesday and had been shared more than 200 times.
A half dozen employees were seen replacing goods, from packaged cheese to vitamins, in the Walmart Neighborhood Market in midtown on Tuesday morning. Workers were checking dates on items offered for sale and were removing some and replacing them with fresher products.
A similar scene was happening at the Walmart Supercenter on 34th Street S in St. Petersburg Tuesday morning. Workers were checking items in the dairy and baby food sections and replacing them with new items. A Times reporter found expired sour cream from Aug. 15 on the shelf along with Enfamil baby formula that expired on July 1.
In Tampa, a Times reporter found expired prenatal vitamins, children's allergy medication and expired baby food from February at the Walmart Supercenter on 4302 W Gandy Blvd. and at a Walmart Neighborhood Market on 1601 W Kennedy Blvd. Most of the expired goods came from the Walmart Neighborhood Market, which, like the one in midtown St. Petersburg, serves poorer communities.
Employees were stocking shelves, but it didn't appear that anyone was checking specifically for expired items as they were in Pinellas County.
The average grocery store has more than 40,000 products on the shelves, said David Vikes, spokesman for the Food Marketing Institute, a food safety organization. Vikes declined to comment specifically about Walmart, but said: "It's hard to keep up with the rotation for each individual item."
Wyman said she worried that shoppers could be caught unaware. "Some families don't know how to read these expiration dates or know where to look for them," she said. "It really bothered me to see that there were still expired products there for sale."
"This is another example of buyer beware," said Nan Jensen, a registered dietitian with Pinellas County Cooperative Extension. "I expect Walmart will take a long hard look at their stocking practices."
It is unlikely that the baby food that expired in February would make a child sick, she said, though it could lead to a vitamin deficiency. She noted that the real risk lies in the lost nutritional value that is guaranteed by the manufacturer up until the expiration date.
"I would be most concerned with the formula," Jensen said. "You could end up feeding your baby little more than liquid without the extra vitamins and minerals. We should expect a whole lot more."
This isn't the first time Walmart or another grocer has sold expired food and perishable goods on its shelves.
In 2008, the state of New Jersey filed a lawsuit against Walmart, Target and a local grocery store chain over selling expired infant formula. Target settled the case for $375,000. Walmart settled two years later for $775,000. In the late 1990s, shoppers in Florida and Alabama sued Winn-Dixie Stores Inc. for relabeling expired food.