/ Shopping

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.

Bianca says:
20 April 2021

I did an online Tesco order and the dates were rubbish. But I noticed that a pie I had recieved was out of date before I’d even placed the order. Tesco made it up by sending someone round with 2 replacement pies and some flowers, but was in shock that it had even happened

Phil says:
20 April 2021

Tesco just fined £7.46 million for selling out of date food.

It was good to see that the company has said “we have robust procedures in place to make sure that this doesn’t happen”.

I presume these problems were down to poorly managed branches. The two Tesco stores I use have been meticulous about checking their stock and moving products to other shelves for prompt sale on or before their use by date.

We get our groceries delivered by Morrisons with usually good dates. This week we had 3 items with the same use by date as the date of our delivery. Goods with today’s date on the product shouldn’t be on the shelves.

I find online shopping from supermarkets an impossible task due to them having FAR too ridiculously long and complex terms and conditions and privacy policies, it seems that they just assume that all their customers are professional class and therefore miles above it all, well we can’t all be like that. I have learning disability and I find it all far too overwhelming so there should be legislation in place to keep them much simpler. And they insist on making you save your card details which I furiously object to, stuff like that is private. When I order non food stuff from other sites like electrical or plumbing supplies for instance, they have much shorter terms and they say that they never see, or store any card details and it’s all handled by a payment service provider like sage pay. And it’s all too often the case that those big outfits like the supermarkets don’t have adequate encryption, i.e. not end to end encryption which should be compulsory. And according to Which? tesco’s customer database has already been breached by criminals and is on the dark web, so why should I let them store my card details if they can’t be trusted? And I’ve often thought that they might send stuff that’s already or very nearly out of date which is no good, especially if you’re having to self isolate like I have done four times already. And I had to rely on local charity workers to do my shopping for me but now they’re not so easily available in my area so if I had to self isolate again it’s quite likely I could end up being starved all because of so many appalling complications which is totally unacceptable in 21st century Britain.

Veryhappybunny says:
23 April 2021

Asda lets you choose to use your card once, or to save it.

I gave up with Sainsbury’s deliveries and click and collect about 6 months ago for just this reason. I think there is someone in the store who does the collecting for deliveries who just does not care about their job. I’ve had things that sell by date was the day we got it. Sausages was the most annoying because you don’t think to check them as they usually have a long expiration date. I went to cook them about 3 days after getting them and they expired 2 days before. The smell when I opened the packet alerted me. Which makes me wonder how long had they been sitting out for before I collected them at 1pm.

I think the problem with Sainsbury’s is it’s down to someone going around the shop and picking the items rather than the likes of Ocado who have a systems in place as they are set up as an online retailer. Would better training help? Assuming they do get training!

From my experience all the Supermarkets often leave goods on the shelf which are. outdated. The pickers just couldn’t care less, if it’s on the shelf, they rarely check the use by date. NB. “Use by” means the goods MUST be consumed by that date. “Best before” dates just mean the food may not taste as good, but are safe to eat, as long as they are consumed by the “best before” date

Before Covid, I actually saw pickers in my local Tesco and they were just grabbing random things off shelves and just kept scanning different things until they got the correct “beep” and then would throw it in the trays. They didn’t look at the product or the dates. I decided then I wouldn’t have another delivery from them. Then came Covid and shielding …

Bobbie says:
20 April 2021

Online food shopping doesn’t work for me as I live alone and they all have a limit. The odd few times I’ve used it I’ve had to order excess items like large washing powder and/or alcohol.

Phil says:
20 April 2021

I live alone and don’t have any problem reaching the limit for a fortnightly shop. Before I retired I used to work shifts which made finding time to go shopping difficult.

I live alone too and it seems the supermarkets think that everyone has at least a partner, and that most have a family, and a freezer, but no recognition of the fact that loads of folk live alone and some of us don’t have a freezer either, I only have a little single person’s fridge with only a tiny icebox which can only hold a little and can only hold it for up to three days at the most. So this is something the supermarkets need to get to know about, they need to get in touch with reality. We can’t all store tons of stuff and keep it fresh. And I certainly don’t have the storage space for piles of food, not even stuff that doesn’t need cold storage.

Yes I have at most supermarkets at one time or another. I usually make a point of taking it with me to the till and asking them to remove from stock.


Hi Marianne, would you like to do another convo on the dodgy tactics supermarkets use to make you buy more than you want or find unwanted items in your delivery?

Hi @alfa there is a previous discussion piece here that might be of interest to you? – https://conversation.which.co.uk/shopping/supermarket-special-offers-dodgy-deals/

I have had several items I have not been charged for. A couple of items were duplicates of what I have ordered. Morrisons gave me frozen Yorkshire puddings. Tesco gave me two lottery tickets. One would have won £1 but I am still not going into supermarkets.

Hi Chirag,

I wasn’t think of special offers, but rather the way our online shopping is manipulated by companies and we end up with products we don’t want or would buy if we shopped in person and saw them first.

I’ve packed in using supermarkets altogether, as I’m absolutely sick and tired of raucous hyper-hysterical cackling fits at the checkouts, they nearly always wait until I’m stuck there doing my transaction and then casually turn up right on cue and start lurching into insane loudmouth cackling fits, and if they leave quick they’re instantly replaced by another who starts the same routine and it absolutely rips my skull apart, and the sooner that kind of appalling disorder is more widely known and recognised the better. There’s nothing the feeble little sunflower lanyard can do to help with that, just as it won’t provide essential quiet segregation on the totally insane new all open plan trains either, so it’s a complete waste of space. Perhaps someone should start a conversation about more extreme disabilities, or is this not really the right site for such a thing. And despite all my intense searching I absolutely cannot find anything anywhere online about anyone so severely disabled like me, and no way am I a “one off”, no chance, all I ever do find is gross ignorance and insane contradictions.

J Clark says:
20 April 2021

I have regularly found on date or next day expiry dates from Sainsburys. I only order every 5 weeks or so as I live alone and freeze individual portions so the dates are ok. Perishable items are more of a problem. There used to be a feedback email after deluvery but not any more.

Charles Hutchinson says:
20 April 2021

The food pickers in Supermarkets really don’t care….and management collude with getting rid of stuff with limited shelf life.
I’ve complained regularly about this problem…..been told pickers are learning on the job and need training…..but it’s simple…..tell pickers…..select food as if you were shopping for yourself and your family!
This could be reinforced by set QA standards.

Roomy says:
21 April 2021

I ordered online shopping from Sainsbury’s. Not only did the delivery come 2.5 hrs late with half the products missing but when i came to eat my quavers crisps it tasted incredibly stale like an old shoe. I checked the sell-by date and realised that Sainsbury’s had sold me a 12-pack of Quavers which had expired on the 19th of DECEMBER 2020! I was eating food that had been expired for 4months. I was livid. I messaged them and the only compensation I got was a £2.50 eVoucher for their store…

I hope you received an apology too. The date shown on crisps will be a ‘best before’ date, which relates to product quality, rather than a ‘use by’ date which relates to safety.

I’ve had an odd occasion with Iceland on their fresh produce dates but generally they are very good. When I’ve had an issue I have emailed their customer service and a credit has been raised back into my bank account by the next day. They have also been my lifeline during lockdown for delivery slots when other big supermarkets had no delivery dates. I would definitely recommend them

Iceland also have a minimum order value of about £25 which would buy too much food for me in one go, I simply couldn’t store it.

A Robinson says:
21 April 2021

I order on line for myself (shielding for a year) and large family and my 90 year old Dad and next door 80+ Yr old neighbours who are IT illiterate and refuse to pay on line as in their words ‘there are all these adverts on the TV about data fraud and scammers getting your money on line’. As a result the orders are never under £320 a week. Had problems with Waitrose, Ocado, Tesco giving us slots so landed up with Sainsbury’s.

We have had problems with frozen food being defrosted on arrival and refused at the door. We have also had a few instances of produce being out of date, but a lot items where the use by of one or two days but no mention at all on the short date message. Strange substitutions like no chopped beetroot salad being available so the substitute was potato salard, personally I don’t believe there was no fresh or vaccum packed beetroot.

Another issue is the reduction in number and choice of goods available over the last few months has been noticeable. For example Black Sheep Bread, a 5* product, has disappeared in all its forms on line but is definitely available on the shelf in the store that is the hub for the delivery. Another is fresh brussel sprouts, for the last year they have been £1 for a kilo bag, or less loose, but for the last two weeks the only Brussels are a plastic bag with 200gms for £1 and no other fresh or a kilo bag of frozen.

The Sainsbury’s staff delivering have been excellent as have the customer services, the problem may well be stock control and pickers.

Jackie says:
22 April 2021

I have shopped with Ocado for 15 years and occasionally with Morrisons (same warehouse I think) since they began online deliveries. Use by dates are reasonable, and substitutions few and far between, and never ridiculous. I recently tried Waitrose, just for a change, and, disappointingly, use by dates were very short – 1-3 days life. I think it is the difference between deliveries from a warehouse and those picked in a store, where the physical customers take the longest dates they can find but the pickers for online customers just take whatever first comes to hand.

Hazel Corser says:
22 April 2021

I had a bad experience with all by dates being extremely short, sometimes on the delivery date, so I stopped using them. They are generally more expensive as well.

Try https://www.parsleybox.com/about-us/food/. Their home delivered food doesn’t need to be chilled or frozen.

Jima1 – How would you rate Parsley Box food for presentation, quality, taste and flavour? It surprises me that cooked food that is not hermetically sealed as in a can will be alright six months later.

For no good reason I would not buy a ready meal like liver and bacon, as an example, that sat in the cupboard for 6 months. So I would like information to convince me.

Ready meals have come a long way in both variety and quality over the last few years. For my convenience I have regularly used M&S, many of which I found very palatable, particularly boeuf Bourguignon and Indian. During lockdown my son collected frozen ready meals by Cook, mostly very appetising and stored in the freezer where, for longer than a fresh meal, is a tried and tested method. I now, being lazy, keep a stock to hand.

I looked at gourmet meals on line today and see I can buy a frozen 3 course meal from Rick Stein; for example scallops starter, lobster thermidor and a chocolate pudding for two for £100 + £7.95 delivery. If only I had room in the freezer.

I would like Which? to carry out a professional test on a selection of meals from the number of companies that now supply them as well as the supermarkets. If they need volunteers I’m happy to take on the onerous task of checking out Stein.

I support Malcolm’s call for Which? to do some testing of these direct-delivery ready meals.

I am concerned that some people who can ill afford them and require healthy and nutritious meals are being taken for a ride and would be better served by an on-line order to their favoured supermarket or Ocado.

As I wrote recently, 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 – https://conversation.which.co.uk/shopping/supermarket-delivery-best-before-dates-expiring/#comment-1624098

I prefer to make my own ready meals, often eating one portion or putting it in the fridge and freezing the rest in portions. That means I know, for example, that I am eating decent meat. This evening I had lamb tagine that had been in the freezer for a couple of weeks. I do like eating out but the next best thing is to enjoy a home-made meal.

I agree. We nearly always eat freshly cooked meals. It seems to me that manufactured ready meals – even from the best grocers – are likely to be poor value for money, possibly made from inferior produce, and not containing the right balance and quantities of meat and vegetables for our liking.

The only exception is certain Indian and Chinese meals which we are not so confident of preparing at home. There are always two or three of those sitting in the freezer, sometimes for lengthy periods; before lockdowns, eating out in an Indian or Chinese restaurant, or getting a good quality takeaway, was a frequent pleasure.

The advertisements I have seen for direct-delivery ready meals only seem to show traditional British cuisine which suggests they appeal mainly to a particular demographic who are probably more conservative in their tastes than the general population. Nevertheless, there must be strong demand so it would be a good subject for Which? to examine.

I look forward to visiting an Indian restaurant again. My own efforts have always aspired to be mediocre.

I have my reservations about Which? testing food and drink because our tastes differ so much. Sometimes we are told that opinions differ. For example some of the experts gave Colin the Caterpillar cake top marks and others did not like it. I recall Which? praising a malt whisky that in my opinion is pleasant but mediocre. I suppose you can compare price, ingredients, portion sizes, nutritional value and presentation but anything else is rather subjective. Well that’s my opinion.

I would hope Which? would use people knowledgeable about food to look at a number of aspects, such as quality of ingredients, proportions of ingredients, use of preservatives, recipe, authenticity, shelf life and preservation of quality and, of course, taste, texture, and a pleasant eating experience. It is not about personal taste but about establishing whether the food is worth buying; we can then decide whether we like it, but know it has been evaluated properly.

I think Which? may not have the capability of doing a “proper job” on this, however. I think someone should, but who else is there? Is it worth getting an elderly person to live on Wiltshire Farm foods, for example; are Parsley foods nutritious, pleasant, without preservatives, after 6 months in the cupboards, is there much to choose between supermarket ready meals and what should we look out for? Worth doing as so many consumers will buy them regularly.

The long-life Parsley Box meals are steam-sterilised by pressure cooking to destroy all bacteria and they will keep for months without refrigeration. I assume they are in transparent plastic containers so that their contents can be inspected. Food sold in jars and cans is sterilised in the same way.

Gavin Nicol says:
22 April 2021

The order before last with Tesco, there were three items expiring within two days of delivery. I have to use tow of them quickly and freeze the third.

Margaret says:
23 April 2021

Waitrose has given me items expiring within 24-48 hours FREE

David Blake says:
23 April 2021

I did big order with Waitrose including several chilled items. All the ones delivered were within 3 days of expiry. I have not done that again.

Paul says:
23 April 2021

We have had several Sainsbury deliveries over the last 5 months. Very rarely do we get everything we’ve ordered. Quite often there is only 4 days, sometimes less, left on fresh food. We try to get our shopping every two weeks. But it’s frustrating to say the least, to find that half of our fridge contents will not go the length. We are fortunate in that we have a farm shop close by. But it makes a mockery of paying for a delivery, only to have to go out and get fresh vegetables etc. to supplement Sainsburys inadequacies!

We have a weekly Sainsburys delivery and it has been invaluable during lockdown. BUT the quality and life of fresh food is a problem and as soon as we felt safe to go out, we are buying much of our fresh food locally, in person.
In fairness, Sainsburys do send an email on the day of delivery to warn if anything has a very short shelf life. But it’s too late then to change the order.
Yes, you can reject unwanted items and get a refund, but if they were needed for meals during the week that scuppers the plan.
When we shop personally we always seek the longest use by date (at the back of the shelf if necessary) and if something has a short life we will re-think our menu for the next few days. You can’t do that with on-line orders.
We could have deliveries more frequently, but it would be anti-social to deny others a slot. Weekly seems appropriate.
But now we can go out we have switched to fortnightly deliveries for things that are heavy or for which the sell-by date is immaterial and we will buy most fruit and vegetables, meat and fish as we go along.
We have read that frozen vegetables are, in many ways, better / healthier than fresh, but they don’t “feel” the same.

Brissle – I think that is the most sensible way to do your shopping if it is possible to go to the shops.

Raiding the backs of the shelves is a problem in our local M&S. I spoke to a member of staff about it a few months ago and she acknowledged that there was plenty of longer-dated stock present when the store opened each day but it quickly disappeared. On a recent visit I noticed that now they were not replenishing the shelves with fresher stock until the original stock had been taken. This saves waste and having to discount stock just to clear it before it goes out of date.

Despite all our travails during the last year or so, with a deadly virus, supply shortages, lockdowns, hoarding, Brexit problems, working from home, and our over-dependence on imports, I don’t think anyone has actually had to starve.

Well said John. Our parents’ generation lived through wartime shortages and managed to cope.

Supermarkets often restock shelves during the day to help ensure that short-dated stock is purchased rather than left on the shelf. It is labour intensive but if food is heavily discounted or goes to waste we all pay higher prices.

I look at the best sell by date on the shelves when I shop. I want fresh food to last as long as possible. Shops can avoid such antisocial behaviour by the way they stock their shelves. Meanwhile…….

I prefer going to a shop to buy fresh food, both to get inspiration and prompt things I hd forgotten I needed. How do you choose a well-marbelled thick steak on line?

Had this happen with both Waitrose and Tesco. Scones from Waitrose on date, they sent them with note saying ‘no charge’. Tesco reimbursed me, I was able to immediately freeze and use later but would have preferred to be able to have used it ‘fresh’. Although slightly annoying, it presented no real problem.

Well said, Pam. Things are not all bad. Keep calm. Carry on.