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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.

Comments

I ordered some Sainsbury’s sea bass fillets for a 8pm -10pm delivery during covid. Came at 9:45 and left outside so couldnt check as the driver had already pulled off by the time I got to the door. Checking the food the seabass fillets had that day’s use by date on them. Obviously had already had my tea hours previous. Phoned to complain and got my money back onto the account. Great when I have no intention of using them again.

I had pack of two gammon steaks which was 2 days past the use by date from Tesco. I’ve also had tenderstem broccoli with only 1 day left before the best before also from Tesco

Jon Hartley says:
19 April 2021

Morrisons – usually so good – can be terrible at sending products on a weeks shop with only two days (including delivery day) before they are useless.

Beryl Davies says:
19 April 2021

Every time I do an online shop from Tesco Prestatyn. The fresh fruit and vegetables are quite often due up the next day. Iceland in Prestatyn sent me a burger from the fresh food cupboard which was 5 weeks out of date. And cake had mould on it. i will not buy fresh food from Tesco on line again.. I am 78 years of age.

Trish says:
19 April 2021

Asda, always the day of or day after, but there is the option to ask for a refund but that’s not the point. Puts me off using them and sometimes the salad is on date but is unusable as it’s brown and Mushy

Jackie says:
19 April 2021

Sainsbury’s recently delivered a chicken that was dated same on its best before date. It was an evening delivery too and I didn’t notice until the next morning. I threw it away as it didn’t smell nice. They refunded me less than I paid for it too I wasn’t happy.

I ordered raspberries from Tesco, the best before date was the next day! If you physically go to the store there are definitely later dated raspberries, it’s very annoying!

Steven Bradley says:
19 April 2021

I’ve been using Sainsburys online for many years have to say the service and consistency of available product is really good. Also, they did a great job throughout COVID of creating slots for delivery – as a family (we also shopped for elderly relatives during the peak times) we only had one week where we couldn’t get a a slot.

Now the bad stuff. What on earth has happened to the quality of Sainsburys fruit and veg? A lot comes through with a short life, though even the products with full life are terrible. We’ve stopped buying our fruit and veg from them as it’s so bad. We’re a family of four with two children and I’d say we spend £20 per week on fruit and veg, so that’s over £1000 a year Sainsburys have lost.

I no longer do my online shopping with Asda because of their short date goods. Also they have a habit of sending out of date goods too. I did use Tesco, but they were almost as bad as Asda. In my experience, every online delivery service has its problems, but Asda and Tesco are the worst

Mags Reid says:
19 April 2021

I have never had any problem with Tesco until recently. Over the past two months I have had blueberries; chicken; pork loin steaks; raspberries with a very short sell by date. I now check all fresh food before the delivery driver leaves so that I can hand back anything I am not happy with. I understood from Tesco’s information that all fresh foods would be the freshest in store. I have also noticed that certain vegetables e.g. potatoes do not have any ‘sell by’ information on them .

You have to be very careful when placing an order how much fresh food you will be able to use in time because the supermarkets do tend to stand by “fresh means fresh” and it will be short-dated. We tend to have a delivery from Sainsbury’s every fortnight so getting enough to last and being able to use it is a bit of an art form.

Many things can be frozen if they are still within the use-by date and some products can judiciously be used for a day or two after expiry.

I expect the late night deliveries are the closest to the expiry date as they will have been picked during the afternoon/early evening after the in-store shoppers have cherry-picked the longer dated items.

The stores think a refund will make us happy, but you can’t eat a refund.

IAN SIMMONDS says:
19 April 2021

As a person whose medical condition has deteriorated to appoint where I am unable to walk around supermarkets. I have two particularly bad examples to report.
One was a delivery where 3 of the 5 ready meals were not delivered, the other 2 had to be consumed within 2 days, even though the shop in question states that items supplied would have 4 plus days in regard to their use by date.
The other was different supplier who delivered two ready meals that could not be frozen, one had a use by date of the day before they delivered and the other had to be eaten the next day.
I did receive credits from both suppliers.

It might be best to order some frozen ready meals, Ian. These could be used later in the week, when the ‘fresh’ ones have been used. Although some products are marked as not suitable for freezing this is a quality rather than a safety issue. I don’t know about ready meals but I have found some products are OK when frozen even the the pack indicates that they are not suitable.

If the meals require cooking you can buy time by cooking them and then storing them in the fridge for a couple of days.

Colin McConkey says:
19 April 2021

We usually order from Tesco and Sainsburys and have to be constantly vigilant in regards to dates. Tesco at least refund to your CC whereas Sainsburys give a Credit note which means you have to go back and shop with them. Most recent order was from Sainsburys a tub of sour cream with previous days date and sauages with the day of delivery date. We had to chase them down on social media which is a hassel for the sake of a couple of £’s but perhaps they hope you will just give forget about it. Is it down to staff training or is there a policy of just getting the producs out the door.

Isobel Rogers says:
19 April 2021

I have always used Sainsbury’s but have to agree that the quality of their fruit and vegetables has dropped considerably. I have on at least three occasions now had chilled foods delivered with a use by date of the following day, and when I complained they weren’t interested. I am now looking at using another supermarket.

When I receive a product with a short use-by date, I have to phone Sainsbury’s and they always give a refund. But I would prefer to receive a longer-dated product in the first place. I really find it a time-consuming chore to phone Sainsbury’s, during which time I can’t do any other audio-related tasks such as watching television or other phone calls. It’s a big waste of my time. Why can’t they implement online chat like other businesses do, ideally using WhatsApp Business?

On two recent occasions once with organic milk and once with normal milk we have been given milk with an expiry day of 1 day and then 2 days. We do click and collect once a week so on one occasion we had to reject the items and on the other we did not notice until we got home. So we froze it and had to go to a local shop to buy milk with more reasonable use by dates. Other supermarkets allow to to add comments to ask for long dates but Sainsbury’s do not seem to have the facility

I have been freezing milk very successfully. Need a bit of a shake when it is defrosted to mix it up.

Before freezing milk, pour some out of the container to avoid it bursting due to expansion. If the freezer drawer/compartment is not tall enough for the container to stand upright, prop it at an angle with other items because it may leak if placed on its side.

My experience is that, semi-skimmed milk freezes very well for week or so. When I have stored it for longer the cream has tended to stick to the side of the container.

I have never yet had a (plastic) bottle burst. Leaving the seal on the bottle prevents any leakage.
I don’t store milk for more than a week or a little over. It keeps a reserve before the next shop and avoids the possibility of it beginning to sour.

It’s fairly common advice to pour some milk out of plastic bottles before freezing to allow for expansion, which could cause the bottle to split.

It may be, but as I said I have never had a problem, nor have my family who have done it routinely throughout Covid. But others can make their own choice, of course.

I have had a few short-dated or substandard items when using click & collect at three supermarkets. I complained about cheese that was past its use by date but managed to cope with short dates in various ways including cooking them and keeping the food in the fridge or freezer. So far, I have not had to waste any food.

Our Morrisons click & collect service is near the back door of the store and a member of staff brings out crates on a trolley. If I am not happy about anything they will happily replace it. I have only had to do this twice so far.

I’ve had no problems with Ocado. Firstly, their web site displays the minimum shelf life as, e.g. 3+ days. Secondly, the invoice lists perishable goods in date use order, so you can refuse anything you don’t want on the doorstep before unpacking. Thirdly, they are very quick to refund anything, which can be done online.

Given the Ocado warehousing and delivery model, there is no reason for a shelf picker to give you the short-dated stuff left behind by other store customers.

I agree that the Ocado model is more effective than the practices of the major supermarkets. By centralising delivery functions on a small number of distribution depots that have no other customers, Ocado has much greater control over supply and the orderly management of stock. The other supermarkets generally run their deliveries out of a large number of hub stores that have inconsistent stock levels at any one time and are subject to the vagaries of random customer buying activities on the shop floor that upset the planning and supply functions. Overproviding would be the only way to counter that but that would be wasteful and push up prices.

The availability of fresh foods is not always satisfactory in supermarkets, but the difference is that when in the store the shopper can see a wide range of products and alternatives and can mentally reconfigure their menus to match what is on display. With deliveries, the customer can only accept or reject, they cannot choose an alternative at the time they realise the use-by dates are too short.

Overall we are now content with the Sainsbury’s system but it was a long and problematic learning curve. In our pat of the country it has settled into a fairly reliable and predictable process but odd things still happen from time to time and shortages are cropping up in unusual categories.

One interesting situation is the shortage of Marmite; this must be almost entirely due to the near twelvemonth shut down of beer brewing: surplus yeast – a primary component of yeast extract and an important by-product of brewing – has not been produced in the normal volumes because the big breweries have been at a standstill so shipments to the Marmite factory must have been greatly reduced and output has therefore plummeted.

Ocado do have a good shelf-life system in place, but these days it is often very short. I order ready-meals for my parents and they always receive meals that need using within 2 days which is quite strange when they keep going out of stock and you never know until the delivery whether they will turn up or not. Kirsty’s ready meals that have been kicked off Ocado used to last a month sometimes.

More recently, fresh veg has had very short use-by dates and quality has deteriorated. Whether it is being sourced from cheaper places with longer transportation journeys, I don’t know but I would love to know who are some of these “M&S Select Farms we know and trust” when they are in distant lands. They certainly include plastic poly-tunnels in Spain.

Before M&S joined Ocado, there was more choice, but now many of the individual suppliers have gone and replaced by M&S or Ocado own-brand, so you never know what you are going to get and where it has come from. For example there is now only one white cabbage available and the last few have had a use-by of just 2 days. I have bought it every one or two weeks for a very long time but the last few that have been delivered I wouldn’t buy if I saw them on the shelf, one was the size of a tennis ball. The black marks on the cut stems and outer leaves don’t bode well, they usually have bad bits inside and they really do need using within a couple of days otherwise they start going off whereas previously they would easily last two weeks. I have always thought M&S in-store fruit and veg was quite good quality, but that is certainly not reflected on Ocado.

Before Covid, I would have gone through the bags myself at delivery time but then had to ask the driver. One delivery, I wanted to reject a substitution and the driver had half my groceries out of their bags on the lawn, so now I just accept whatever turns up.

I recently placed an order with Asda. Nearly half the items were out of stock by the time the order was delivered.

I have also placed several orders with Waitrose and had no problems there.

One of the unexpected outcomes of lockdowns is the growth in the market for ready meals in different forms. We get a lot of direct marketing material as well as seeing a considerable amount of media advertising.

Some of the meals are frozen, some chilled, and some is at ambient temperature but in suitable protective packaging and allegedly safe on the shelf for six months because of the slow cooking process. We have not tried any of these but presume they appeal to reasonably well-off but housebound people.

It would be good if Which? would test these products to see whether or not they live up to their claims of being nutritious, “hearty”, flavoursome, and economical.

I have an awful suspicion that, notwithstanding the eye-catching pictures and gushing descriptions, they end up as so much mush on a dish.

Obviously they can cut out much of the work involved in preparing food and washing up afterwards but are they really sufficient main meals for two? Are the vegetables as appetising and toothsome as they are presented? Is the meat of a reasonable quality? Is the convenience factor taking precedence over quality and value with the meals being ultimately rather disappointing?

There must be a considerable market for these products and when I look at the headline prices in the adverts I wonder how the manufacturers can achieve a reasonable result for the money when production and delivery costs and profit are accounted for.

Agnes says:
20 April 2021

I have found Asdas standards going down hill. I have asked for the longest available dates due to shielding. My easter shopping arrived. I noticed that my hot cross buns were a day out of date. I handed this back to the driver. My bread was a swap instead of being an 800g loaf asdas own brand. Given a 400g hovis at same price and to be used by 2 days. I never caught the roast on time and the salad tomatoes. Roast was 3 days out of date so no roast for easter. Tomatoes were use by the next 2 days and were already showing signs of being too soft. Previous deliveries. Milk too short a shelf life. Bread out of date. Never noticed a missing frozen item I was charged for till too late, after 5 days. I now have to manually check each items dates and that they are all there before I store them away. Not great when you are on your own and dont keep in great health. I have used online deliveries for years but I think it’s a case that the work load too much and timings to short to do the job given to the staff. It will be far too much for them to cope with . All the big shops have
done better with being open through out covid with increased sales in their clothing and home departments. Whilst clothing shops are classed as non essential shops and have had to stay closed. They can all afford to employ more staff to cope with demand and ease the stress on their current staff.

Brian Butterworth says:
20 April 2021

This has happened from time to time from Adsa. They have, without fail, provided a full immediate refund as well as not collecting the items.