We are all more or less used to the try-it-on culture but when customers return stuff along with threats “to report you”, you are bound to look over your shoulder.

I had a call from Hari Singh, who trades in Liverpool, concerning a customer who brought back an empty packet of Walkers prawn cocktail which she claimed was past its sell-by date and which had made her 18-year-old son so sick that he had thrown up on her carpet. She was interested in compensation.

Trading standards pointed out that prawn cocktail crisps do not have ‘use-by’ dates which are really the only serious ones you have to worry about since you are not allowed to sell stuff past their use-by dates. This particular packet of crisps was a bit past its ‘best-before’ date by the time it was returned but the lady had no till receipt and, as Hari pointed out, his supplies of Walkers prawn cocktail, obtained from Batley’s Cash & Carry, usually had around three months’ shelf life in them. Turnover, in a busy little station like his, pretty well guaranteed that the crisps, if he sold them at all, were okay at the time.

(Incidentally you are allowed to sell goods past their best-before dates but are supposed to notify customers via a sign or, more likely, via reduced prices.)

So how on earth an 18-year-old ever managed to get himself into such a state that he threw up on the carpet... well, we can hazard a few guesses but it won’t include eating some slightly stale crisps.

I told Hari that he should inform his customer, in perfectly polite terms, that he had consulted trading standards and that he was not at fault. And I also advised him to tell her that, if she wanted to take it further, then she should inform her local environmental health officer. This would make it interesting because, if you report someone to the EHOs, you’d better be prepared to back it up. They will want swabs. Samples of sick. And proof of purchase.

The outcome of this, as you probably guessed, was that the lady dropped it like a, er, hot potato.