Research Officer for BBC Media Action in the Palestinian Territories
You don't normally get paid to go shopping. But recently I found myself doing just that as I wandered around the aisles for TV show Hur el Kalam.
Hur el Kalam (which means to 'free to speak') is a monthly show produced by PBC (Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation) with support from BBC Media Action and gives people the opportunity to bring their leaders to account on the issues that matter to them.
The issue for that episode was the amount of goods past their sell-by date still on shops' shelves – and what the government was doing to stop it. The Ministry of National Economy had promised a crackdown on the selling of expired goods after a whole family suffered food poisoning from a bag of expired nuts bought at a shop in the West Bank.
So I joined one of the ministry's investigative units on a shopping trip with a difference.
The bustling city centre of Ramallah.
A tip off had been received about a shop in Ramallah city and while the investigators explained to the cashier that they were conducting a regular check, I started to peruse the shelves.
I was on the hunt for expired goods but almost immediately also found other products that caught my eye and contemplated buying them for myself. One was a large, pink bottle with a label proclaiming "pomegranate and cherry-scented body lotion". Picking it up to have a sniff, I was, however, immediately taken back by the texture of the lotion: it had totally separated into oil and lotion.
A few moments later, one of the investigators checked the expiration date on the bottle and whispered, "Look for more bottles. Looks like we got what we were looking for!" I was shocked. Could this normal-looking lotion bottle be past its sell-by date? I had almost bought it!
By the time they were finished, the investigators had found some food and other cosmetic products to join the body lotion. They explained to the cashier – and to our TV cameras – that expiration dates should not be ignored and that people should look out for dates printed on the product (rather than ones printed on a sticker which can be removed). After drawing up a report and reading their rights to the shop owners, the investigators explained they have the right to close the shop until a formal investigation and court hearing is issued.
My surprising discovery in the aisles became one of the pre-recorded items for the Hur el Kalam episode, which also included an interview with a Palestinian judicial branch representative who hears the cases of shops accused of selling expired goods.
For the recording of the episode itself in Ramallah city, just over 130 people – the majority of them women – came along to take part as the studio audience with questions for a panel which included a representative from the Ministry of National Economy.
The topic might not seem as weighty as other issues, such as the stalled peace process or unemployment, which are discussed on Hur el Kalam and its sister show Aswat Min Filesteen (Voices From Palestine). But I hope my trip will help others be safer on their day-to-day shop.