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Supermarket deliveries: have you been given items with expiring use-by dates?

Has your supermarket delivery arrived with fresh products approaching their use-by/best before date within just a day or two? If so, we’d like to hear from you.

Online supermarket orders have surged for obvious reasons throughout the pandemic – hundreds of you came to Which? Conversation in April last year to report difficulties securing a slot for your grocery shopping.

Fortunately the situation has eased considerably since then, but with online deliveries still preferred by many as restrictions gradually ease, it can be frustrating to receive your order only to find that half the items are approaching their best before/use-by date extremely quickly.

Short shelf lives

We know that the Twitter user above is far from alone, with many disgruntled customers sharing photos of items with short best before dates on social media.

I’ve heard from Which? staff the last few days who have had the same issue – some told me they had to re-think their entire week’s shop due to so many fresh items expiring in such a short space of time.

Over to you

So the question is: has this happened to you? I’m especially keen to here which items are expiring, how soon you have to use them, and which supermarket you ordered from.

Do you think supermarkets should do more to let you know which items are approaching their use-by date before you order? And are there any stores that are doing a good job?

Let me know your experiences in the comments.

Mr & Mrs Daily says:
26 April 2021

Our last M&S food delivery from OCADO was a significant problem. Most of the pre-prepared meals were ok date-wise but the problem was with the vegetable accompaniments. We received 3 x Dauphinois potatoes, 3 x poatato and spinach gratin, 2x gluten free quiche lorraine. All had a use by date within 2 days of delivery. Had I been able to check the dates at time of delivery I would have returned the majority but that’s not practical. Need to research the OCADO complaints/redress procedures in expectation of a re-occurence.

Paul says:
28 April 2021

Have continued to use Sainsburys Online weekly since the end of last Summer – had a few occurrences of fresh meat items (Beef Mince, Turkey Sausages (twice, consecutive weeks), pre-packed fresh fish, etc.) being delivered in a 8-9pm delivery slot with “Use By” of that day. Either used the following day (or thrown, if really concerned), but always simply called and got a refund/voucher for the next shop. Never had to argue about the refund, and the Customer Service rep. usually very apologetic, also mentioning that they will contact the store to make them aware of the repeated issues. The old adage is that things will inevitably go wrong, but it’s how the retailer deals with the issue that matters; (so far) cannot complain about how Sainsburys deal with these hiccups.

I stay on my own and have ordered cold meat packs which have had a two day expiry date on all the packs.
I have also ordered potatoes which have no use by date shown but have been totally unusable due to rot.
I phoned Sainsburys and got a refund!
Wow, thanks!

Maria says:
28 April 2021

We have a weekly Saturday delivery from Ocado. Every single delivery for months has had fruit and veg with an expiry date of Sunday or Monday. Whilst the individual items are usually fine to use after the expiry date that’s not really the point. If I were shopping in store I’d choose items with a longer date if I knew I needed to be using them over a longer period of time.

Doug says:
30 April 2021

Last week, Sainsbury’s delivery at 8pm Friday. 4 items with use by date of that very day. All refunded.

This week – delivery 8pm Friday 30th – item with use by date of Thursday 29th.

The people packing either don’t care or are so run off their feet that they can’t care.

Getting worse – this is becoming standard practice for the Stirling store

I am assuming that Which? are in contact with Sainsbury’s CEO to inform him about the large number of complaints about extremely short-dated stock, especially on later deliveries. While the problem is not exclusive to Sainsbury’s there do seem to be more reports here about Sainsbury’s failing in this respect than about the other major supermarkets. I trust Which? are collating these for future reference.

Having said that, I had to go into Norwich the other day for my Covid vaccination and took the opportunity to go to the food hall at M&S armed with a shopping list provided by the catering manageress. I found it quite difficult to get any fresh food on the list with more than two days left in which to eat it, so perhaps this is a general problem not confined to supermarket deliveries.

Do Which? take any action or do they just write articles? Nothing seems to have been effectively done about Currys PCW despite not only poor service but, allegedly, breaking consumer law.

I hope that Which? are active behind the scenes in ways we do not know. Perhaps they would keep members, at least, informed as to how they are pursuing issues on behalf of consumers. Their efforts against Whirlpool (dryers and washing machines) achieved little. Which reminds me we have had no updates for a long time; are all defective machines repaired and replaced and all disaffected customers now happy?

I don’t see the point of Which? setting up these Conversations in response to consumers’ concerns unless they are going to follow through with action of some kind. If they just want to sit passively and wait for the reports to accumulate that is a bit of an insult to the people that have taken the trouble to respond to the Conversations.

There are three courses of action open to Which? when problems like this arise: they can raise it with the company concerned, develop an article with evidence for Which? Magazine, or – if it is urgent or serious – issue a press release. I get the impression that Which? shies away from actually interacting with the companies that deserve reproof.

What other body has the authority that Which? has in consumer affairs? It should be able to command respect and attention to our concerns, and I would suggest that most reputable companies would be only too eager to engage with it.

What consumers organisation is missing?
I don’t generally like mission statements – usually contrived to tell us what they would like us to hear, not necessarily what they do. But, at one time, Which?’s included something like “ we exist to make consumers as powerful as the organisations they have to deal with”. Is that still current? Is it factual?

Another Morrisons click & collect session this morning and I paid more attention than usual to the dates on fresh produce. The shortest date was 3 days on a pack of mushrooms but they look as if they are likely to last longer.

One item was missing, a 55p pack. of ibuprofen tablets. Morrisons had helpfully replaced it with another brand priced at £1.80. I declined the offer. In my experience, Tesco and Waitrose would not charge extra in these circumstances.

Judith Byrne says:
3 May 2021

I use Morrisons as they were the only ones who would deliver last April so I have remained loyal to them. Recently I have had date issues with Fresh Dips, 1 was in fact already 1 day out of date..often they have only 2-3 days to the use by. Milk has been another issue with earlier dated products being delivered 4 days later, U have highlighted a number of products and they have been excellent in issuing credits but I would rather have longer dated products.
I also have a holiday home and have deliveries there from a different Morrisons store. The dates from this store are generally much longer across all the product lines. Obviously each store has different demands on products but it would appear that my ‘home’ store has a policy of shifting the short dated product out on deliveries….or they have a very poor product rotation system (or lack of system) in store.

As you have found, Judith, one supermarket branch can perform better than another. We don’t usually have the option of choosing deliveries from more than one branch but we can find out which local supermarket does best by asking local friends about their experiences.

I’m surprised that milk is a problem because that is such a popular item. The milk I collected yesterday had a 13 day life and the last time it was 10 days.

I also have used morrisons for many years but it has recently gone down hill (I think they are packing in store). Drivers sometimes check and knock off value of item s delivered on selll buy date ( had meat and veg arrive on use by or the day before). Also bread squahed by tins, no bags so everything has to be packed and unpacked twice. Starting to look elsewhere

I suggest you try a different supermarket if Morrisons are letting you down, Fiona. The three supermarkets I use collect food from the normal shop display but in other areas food can come from depots. It’s worth letting the company know if your groceries are being damaged by poor packing.

I know that Morrisons has recently stopped supplying bags for click & collect orders, which Tesco did sometime last year. Single-use plastics are an environmental nightmare and I feel strongly that it is worth putting up with the inconvenience to avoid contributing to the problem. Plastic microparticles in the ocean are now getting into our food. 🙁

J Beardsley says:
3 May 2021

We have experienced this at least twice with Sainsburys, who sent my father an out of date Taste the Difference oak smoked haddock chowder (2) which he’d purchased as a special treat for himself on our recommendation as they are very tasty. So he was very disappointed as were we, with the fact they arrived with the previous day’s date on!
If there had been no pandemic, he would have gone to the store and swapped them, but as he is 88 and on the clinically extremely vulnerable list he wanted to ring the store, and if possible have a replacement sent, as he was really looking forward to them and it made him short of a meal that week.
However Sainsbury’s have a centralised system for customer complaints and customer services said it wouldn’t be possible to send a replacement. I ended up having to organise a refund for him so that he could get his money back, which they agreed to do but only offering a voucher for the cost sent to his Sainsbury’s online shopping account (which I manage for him).
I was not happy that no replacement could be offered as I felt that he at least deserved some recompense for the disappointment of not having his treat. After I asked them if there was any compensation for this error they did eventually agree to send him a voucher for £5 and said they would email the store responsible for the delivery and ask them to check their online shopping practice to stop it happening again.
However the very next week he received a pizza and a big pack of bacon with the date of delivery date on them! As he lives by himself he found this tricky to manage as he had to separate all the bacon and freeze it.
If there had been no pandemic, he would have gone to the store and taken back the items, as he would the first time.
I would like to balance this with the fact that Sainsbury’s have been very reliable through the last year in delivering to my father most weeks and some of the drivers have been very helpful and considerate of his situation.

Jo Jarman says:
11 May 2021

I have a weekly delivery from Sainsbury. I have had a lot of problems with items expiring with 1 day – mainly ready meals. I didn’t very often experience these issues before the pandemic.
When I have telephoned Sainsbury they have issued a refund by voucher but this can be time consuming as waiting times can be long.
I had 100 cigarettes delivered which turned out to be the wrong brand. Sainsbury said I would have to return them to a store which I told them was not possible as it was in December when covid transmission was particularly high and I was vulnerable (I am on their list). On eventually manging to speak to the store direct I was told I could return them to the delivery person the following week and they would then issue a refund. I never received the refund so was £46 out of pocket.
I occasionally have a delivery from Waitrose. They also have ben very bad with there expiry dates.

My friend did an online shop with Tesco last week. I noticed that their site now shows the expected range of use by dates for perishable items.

Ordered 10 swede from Asda delivery 13/5, after a few days found they were completely rancidly rotten, I’ve never seen that in a root vegetable so I looked at the tiny sticky label with even smaller best before. All 10 were either best before 11/5 or 13/5. The previous order included peppers for a week which were best before the next day and some later. If I shop I wouldn’t chose stock with short life on the basis I could use it quickly, but the pickers seem to have done exactly that, made a choice I wouldn’t assuming the items would be used evenly over week. In other words they deliberately did not select the best produce to benefit the store, not the customer. They not only swindled me, they charged me £4.50 to do it as a picking charge. It’s absolutely disgusting they behave like this, all produce should be in date and the longest date available. As you would if you were in the store.

john annells says:
21 May 2021

I use Tesco from the Croydon depot and have used them for years, I have not had any problems with the use by date, they state on there site if it is a fridge item the number of days so have been very pleased with them.

Roz says:
27 May 2021

Hello. I’ve experienced this problem with Sainsbury’s online shopping service in the past. I expect each online shop to last about a week so it was no good whatsoever when 4 pints of milk arrived with a use by date only a day or two away. As a result, I now mostly use Ocado, because it indicates on the website the minimum shelf life of each product – allowing me to pick my perishable options to cover the whole week. I also find them generally more accurate, with fewer substitutions/missing items than Sainsbury’s.

However, I do wish all online shops (I also use Waitrose and Amazon Fresh occasionally) were much more up front about country of origin of their produce. Sometimes items will be flagged as British (eg asparagus at the moment) but too often there is no information on the website. I don’t mind some items from further afield, but do not appreciate, for example, being sent foreign apples in the middle of the British apple season – that was Ocado. I complained in chat and got a refund.

Hi there. I have been receiving my online shop from Sainsburys for some time now. The last time one arrived on Friday and I noticed that the mushrooms looked very much past their best. They had an expiry date of 31/05 but we opened them a day before then and found that some were mouldy already. On previous occasions I’ve had potatoes and aubergines from them which also looked quite old. I’ve either used them quickly or when I can be bothered, I’ve complained. I think that when purchasing produce by weight (eg sweet potatoes) they fish out the biggest one from the pile but when I buy something which is priced per item (eg aubergines) they fish out the smallest one.

I share your concerns, G Wilkinson. We are finding fresh fruit that comes with our fortnightly Sainsbury’s delivery is not good enough, being past its best even on delivery day, and we have experienced the same problems as you have with vegetables, although for the first time for a long time the carrots that came today were consistently medium-sized and more or less uniform. When buying by number we used to always get small ones, so we switched to weight and received two or three massive ones. Today we had five on the order and we received just what we wanted. But who knows what will come next time?

I suppose we have to accept that in return for the convenience and safety that on-line supermarket shopping gives us other people will be picking the produce whereas if we were shopping in person we would be looking for and selecting the items that best met our requirements in terms of freshness, size/weight/condition/appearance and with one eye on the day’s price. With store staff doing it for us they will obviously have other motivations such as clearing slow-moving stock, getting rid of the bruised and blemished items, and packing the left-overs after in-store customers have had their pick of the crop. It’s annoying but inevitable. There is one good aspect that I can think of though: the possible saving in waste [if you use your imagination with what is delivered].

Sarah says:
11 June 2021

Hello – yes I’ve found this repeatedly with Sainsbury’s with things like hummus, yoghurt, salad to the extent that I’m no longer ordering perishables like this with home deliveries

I noticed a real difference in use by dates when Ocado switched from Waitrose to M&S. It is especially noticeable with M&S fresh vegetables and meat. Other brands don’t seem to be as effected. If I want fresh M&S items, I now usually pick them up at a store.

Leanne Sullivan says:
30 June 2021

Sainsbury’s delivered my online shop this evening with yogurts 6 days out of date. Shocking!!

Jean Gee says:
1 July 2021

I have stopped Sainsbury deliveries due to them sending at 11pm delivery food dated the day of the delivery – particularly salmon and expensive meats. The fruit and vegetables were also always dated to use within 2 days. There is one person at this address and if I buy two pieces of fresh salmon I would like it to make 2 meals – I certainly will not be eating it on the night it arrives at bedtime. I found during the lockdown it was very difficult to get any fresh fruit and vegetables with decent use by dates and spent a lot of money with them

Where do i start?…i get shopping delivered from Tesco once a week. Ii am a mid week delivery saver customer and must admit it saves me time and money.
But they do make mistakes and wont admit its their. fault. Ive had meat, fruit, vegetables, bread and more delivered with the next dsy as the due date and on a few occasions the food has been dated same day as delivery. In fact i even had cakes delivered which should have been eaten 2 days before .delivery.! However the worst thing to happen is items delivered which i didn’t order,,,,,and they dont believe it was their fault. They always assume it to be my error and treat me like with scarcely hidden .contempt…’mrs T -would you like help doing your order’ or’ its sometimes difficult to select the right item’! I can leave notes about due dares or alternatives but that is bit used as it should be. I dread phoning if something is wrong but i still do and find it increasingly difficult.to ‘keep my cool’ with them.

Wilma – Are you exclusively reliant on Tesco? Other supermarkets are offering more delivery slots to new customers now. The quality of service does seem to vary from place to place depending on the competence of the delivery hub or depot.

The problem of short-dated produce is a difficult one to tackle. The stores don’t know people’s family sizes, what customers’ fresh food requirements are or whether they are buying for the freezer, and the extent to which they might wish to spread out their ingredients over a week or more.

The stores also might have no alternative but to send short-dated foods if that is all they have left in stock when the orders are picked — I expect demand is higher when the midweek saver scheme operates. They also need to save waste [which keeps prices down]. Bakery products are a particular case where the stores expect people to buy for the same or next day consumption.

Delivery will never be as good as personal shopping where you can select the things you want to exactly suit your requirements and adapt your menus to reflect what is available. Against that is the general convenience, time-saving and health protection of staying at home.

As John has suggested it could be worth shopping around to find out if another local supermarket does better. It is worth choosing products that will keep for longer. I don’t believe I bought an iceberg lettuce before the pandemic, but found that they keep a long time. I have also made more use of the freezer, either freezing what I buy or cooking and freezing meals.

Jenny kelsey says:
18 July 2021

I have used Sainsbury regularly for many years, and used their deliveries during lockdowns and then thereafter. But I have had to limit what I have delivered by them as we have had so many items delivered either close to expiry date or, almost weekly, fresh salad and fresh raw meat/poultry actually on the expiry date on an evening of delivery. Complaints on social media rarely got a response although phoning customer services got a genuine I am sorry – but the practice never altered. I prefer to use Ocado now as at least they give you details of short-life in advance so you can reject it when the delivery person turns up. PS Other friends have had the same experience regularly from Sainsburys.

Sainsbury’s have their good points but are far from perfect, but then it seems every one of the major supermarkets is unsatisfactory in some respects so we just have to either accept what we think is the best in our area or go shopping ourselves.

One area where Sainsbury’s could certainly improve at little trouble or expense is in learning from customer feedback. While it opens its ears to complaints it does nothing to remedy them and a good example is the product reviews left by customers on their on-line ordering process. Many times I have read critical reports on products from several customers stretching back over two or three years; I am sure these comments are largely constructive, made with good intentions for the company to improve, but there is never a shred of recognition, explanation or apology from the management let alone any implementation of a change in response to the comments. At least they leave the adverse comments in place for all to read unlike some other companies.

I have used Sainsburys for deliveries throughout the pandemic off and on; the delivery staff have been outstanding on the whole, and it has been relatively pain free to get refunds for unwanted “swaps” (weirdest was a delivery of spring onions as they had no radishes!!). However, I have had many instances of close-to-expiry products that you won’t be aware of until after the driver has left. In one delivery, 10pm slot, I had lamb that was expiring that day – there was no way I was cooking lamb at that time of night! I also had raspberries with same day expiry delivered in a late slot, and I did use them that night (trifle and a raspberry sauce) because these go over so very quickly I didn’t want to risk it. Mad as it may seem, I never thought to ask for a refund!!!