/ 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.

Mebz Bobat says:
23 April 2021

Just picked our click & collect shopping from Sainsbury’s and it had short shelf life items including chicken. They refunded these items and also allowed us to keep them because “you’re regular shoppers”

We were shocked by our delivery from Sainsburys Haywards Heath & will never use their online deliveries again. We were lucky in that we only had to isolate for a couple of days before getting the all-clear. Sainsburys delivered at 9 pm various products including 2 loaves of bread, cooked meat & others with BB or UB as the current date. When I complained I these were referred to as “short shelf life”. That’s THREE HOURS of shelf life.

I assume this is a way of avoiding fines for selling goods which are out of date – just send them out on their expiry date to customers who are self-isolating or shielding.

I was told the store manager would contact me – needless to say, they didn’t bother.

We order weekly so need milk which will last a week, Getting it from Waitrose has been a constant difficulty over the last year despite putting ‘must have at least 6 days life please’ into the Notes box. It put the whole Shielding issue into compromise if we had to visit the local garage for milk (which always seems to have milk with a good life ahead.

D A Craig – Have you tried Cravendale [or own label] filtered milk? It will last much longer than ordinary milk before opening after which it will last a further four days. The taste is just as good.

Cravendale is great for shelf life and does taste nice, but it’s much more expensive than supermarket milk and the bottles are not as big. A 2l bottle of Cravendale is £1.65 in Asda, while a 4 pint (2.3l) bottle of Asda milk is £1.09. Works out nearly double the price per litre, and that’s a lot when you’re on a budget and your household gets through 20 pints of milk a week.

If you have a freezer, put a bottle in there. Thaw overnight and give it a shake before opening.

Filtered milk is more expensive, so I suggest freezing fresh milk if you have space in the freezer. I used to keep a couple of cartons of UHT milk but fresh milk tastes better and is cheaper.

Filtered milk is dearer than ordinary milk – but milk that has gone off and is wasted is even more expensive.

I don’t know about all the supermarkets but Sainsbury’s, Tesco, and M&S sell their own-label filtered milk at a lower unit price than Cravendale. There is no detectable difference.

Are these branded milks just another way of appealing to our wish to dispose of income on unnecessary purchases? Perhaps Which? could investigate the real worth of pricier staples like milk, butter, over the standard versions.

Filtered milk is produced by passing homogenised milk through a ceramic filter, which removes most of the bacteria that can cause spoilage, thus extending the storage life. There should be no difference in the taste so you should be able to buy on price. or availability.

It looks like Which? have struck a throbbing nerve with this Conversation. I am starting to feel some sympathy for the supermarkets. Other food shops which have limited inventories and don’t do deliveries are getting off lightly, but the one’s who have helped us all and kept us fed and watered are getting it in the neck. I wonder what Which? are going to do to put things right for consumers. We can be a miserable lot of moaners sometimes in this country.

Thanks John. There do seem to be quite a lot of folk who aren’t happy unless they have something to moan about.

But I wonder if supermarket pickers are encouraged to check use by dates or whether they are pressured into picking each order as quickly as possible, in which case it they won’t want to take the time for that.

In the first lockdown, I did encounter a small army of pickers at my local Morisons. I usually did my best to ease their passage through the aisles, from the basis that their work was more important than my weekly shopping visits.

I placed a click & collect order with Morrisons and collected it this morning. Everything present and correct, and with good use by dates. No charge for having someone going round the store and picking what I have ordered. If anything had been unsatisfactory I could have handed it back for replacement or refund.

Now that more people are shopping in supermarkets it is easier to get delivery and collection slots, making it easier to find out which one works best for you.

Tesco ‘home delivered’ a £3.50 gammon joint where the ‘USE BY’ date was 4 DAYS BEFORE the delivery date! A round trip to the shop of 16 miles was not an option, so I phoned & complained about it. The man I spoke to agreed to credit the £3.50 only. I then complained it had greatly inconvenienced me & put my plans to serve it at the weekend in disarray, so they also sent me a £5 ‘goodwill voucher’. These shops must not be allowed to get away with palming off ‘old food’.

We have used Sainsbury Click & Collect for several weeks. Around 50% of the time we get items close to sell by date, mainly fresh fruit or vegetables. On a couple of occasions 2 days before their sell by date. To be fair we get an email on the day of delivery to tell us that these items are short life and can be refused when we collect them. On 2 occasions we have received fresh growing herbs which were dying but we only discovered how bad they were on returning home. We were able to exchange them at customer services later but that meant an extra trip

Milk is the biggest issue, as many have mentioned. The milk I get delivered with my shop has to last me until my next delivery (weekly), but it often turns up with only 3 or 4 days’ date on. When complained I was told it only needed to have 3 days on it, so nothing they could/would do. I use it anyway as long as it doesn’t smell, but only because I’m not given much other choice.
This was particularly a problem during the peak of the pandemic; as an extremely clinically vulnerable person I was shielding and not going to supermarkets. Still staying away to be honest.
I sympathise with the supermarkets to some extent as its obviously been hard to keep up with the demand for online orders, and goods must be picked quickly to get through them all, but I don’t believe that as consumers we should suffer when we are putting our trust in these people to supply us with our food.

Waitrose usually deliver with 2-3 days left on best-before. I queried this and apparently its their target.

Wow – I struggle to sympathise with many of the comments on this thread. To complain about what are relatively minor issues experienced in the unprecedented times in which we now live is 1st world moaning at its worst.
PS. Sainsbury’s are great, very helpful & always email before delivery on any items with a short date.

Su Lambert says:
23 April 2021

First world moaning or not, the only reason any of us has been reporting our experience is because Which? asked us to! This provides a record of just what issues there are, if any…

Quite right Su. We have been invited to have a moan! In the circumstances I have been generally very happy with the service I have received but others have continuing problems. I guess it has more to do with local issues rather than which supermarket chain you use.

I am pleased that Which? has asked consumers to report on problems with short-dated fresh produce in supermarket deliveries. If nothing else it shows that, while most of the issues reported are typical and fairly predictable, overall the service the companies offer is satisfactory and most problems are minor and fairly easily worked around.

The companies seem to be fairly reasonable and quite obliging when contacted and refunds are generally available; some of the reports have not said whether or not the customer did raise the problem with Customer Services – given the willing response from the supermarkets I would recommend people to do so.

Which? has asked consumers for their experiences, presumably so that it could address the issues and enter a dialogue with the supermarkets. I am looking forward to seeing what Which? makes of all the instances that have been recorded here and how it will move forward on this point in order to improve customer satisfaction [or lower expectations if that is more realistic]. I am hoping there will eventually be some improvements in service delivery but feel it would only be fair to wait until things have returned to something like normal and the pressure on staff has abated – companies have been operating throughout the epidemic with many personnel absent from the workplace and that must have impacted on the service provided.

We have used the Waitrose click and collect service in recent months and have often had items such as milk with dates much closer that we would expect. It is an issue which makes us less inclined to use this method.

Su Lambert says:
23 April 2021

I have actually just had an order from Sainsbury’s including a vegetarian meal with a use by date of tomorrow. Over the last year I have had a thin sprinkling of short-dated items from Asda and Sainsbury’s.

Sainsbury’s have more often sent an email saying there is something short-dated and they hope I’m still happy! I think they should be offering a discount. Something short-dated from Asda just turns up with no warning. I have to check dates on everything every single time whichever supermarket it is. There has never been any problem over rejecting something at the door, but I’m most unlikely to notice until I put things away, unless I’ve been warned in advance.

Asda provide the opportunity to claim a refund online. With Sainsbury’s you have to phone up to complain. That is ridiculous when I can order online. I would be quite happy to provide a photo if either of them wanted it.

Items which have come short-dated include prepared meals and desserts, cakes and vegetables. I once had something which was use by the previous day; and maybe 8-10 items for same day or following day, out of all deliveries over the last year.

Brian J. B. Wood says:
23 April 2021

To be fair, Sainsbury’s delivery staff are, in my experience, quick to point out items close to their expiry date, apologise, agree that the people who make up my orders are under a lot of pressure so cannot take the same time to scrutinize dates that I do when visiting a shop, and generally offer to return the item(s) or even leave it/them without a charge to me, explaining, if I find that a little embarrassing “If I take it back it will only be discarded so take it as a gift” or words to that effect. Is it just my age (86) that provokes this kind act? Age and mobility and health issues have made me very reliant on home deliveries this past year or so and I find Sainsburys’ service overall and their delivery staff helpful and a great relief in these difficult times. The Company identified me as being in a high risk group (although they put it more diplomatically) and placed me in the priority group for booking delivery slots without my needing to initiate the change. I am deeply grateful for their support.

23 April 2021

Our Morrison’t driver told us that they have just started a new policy of making sure items are well within date. Our deliveries since then have been in line with this policy, making a noticeable difference.

Jan says:
23 April 2021

Yes! Sainsbury’s in Winterstoke Road Bristol have regularly send me salmon with less than 24 hours UB date, despite complaints and refunds. They have also sent onions covered in mould and bananas black with bruising. Stopped requesting deliveries.

I had a delivery from Sainsbury’s this week,WEDNESDAY,and taste the difference tomatoes dated day of delivery 21st April.Contacted customer online service and received full refund but still causes inconvenience as planned salads for later in the week

We regularly use Sainsburys for click&collect and delivery. Almost every time there are items that are short shelf life (less than 48hrs) that are not identified as such when they are delivered. Typical items are chicken, fish, prepacked veg/salads and breads.
We have, on a couple of occasions received expired goods also (tuna steaks that expired the day before receiving them).
To be fair, when we complain Sainsburys do usually offer refund/vouchers, but this doesn’t help the weekly menu plan changes and emergency shopping trips that are inevitabley required.

Jo F says:
23 April 2021

Probably half of our delivered meat and fish products have ‘use by’ dates of two days – and as my isolating father, my neighbour and I share deliveries, we’re alternating between Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Morrisons and Asda – and they are all as bad as each other. I forgot to check the date on some breaded halloumi fingers (well, cheese, you know?) and when I came to cook them *3* days later – they were off! Especially in the beginning, I’ve had to throw out free-range chicken (which really hurts!), pork and sausages – and I loathe throwing away food. I can’t wait to get back to shopping in person, when I can check the dates myself.

Richard says:
23 April 2021

I bought liver through Asda online in February. It was my first online order from Asda & I booked about a week ahead. However, by delivery day my original order was hardly recognisable: nearly half transpired to be unavailable (even more annoyingly by dribs and drabs rather than a concise notification). I had to add maybe a dozen items that I didn’t really need to make up the value. The liver had a use by date of the next day. I couldn’t quite believe it. I had planned to use it several days later. I had to rejiggle my plan for the week as there were other items I had planned to eat sooner that instead had to be frozen for use at a later date.

I have had cause to complain to Salisbury when i received an item which had an expiry date for the day that it was delivered. Although i was given a refund Sainbury’s sugested that they had a policy on use by dates and they did not remove items from shelves until that date in order to reduce waste. I have since received many items that expire within one or two days following delivery and i usually complain to the delivery driver who is usually sympathetic. I get the feeling that home delivery customer’s are being used as a way of disposing of items which will be difficult to sell in their shops H Richardson

Julie P says:
23 April 2021

We have had Tesco delivery for the last year as my husband is extremely vulnerable and I’m his carer. It was the only one we managed to get home delivery from. We have regularly had very short date fresh veg/meat chilled products. Going over veg/fruit is normal and we’re surprised if it’s not. The large half leg of lamb ordered for Easter date expiry 36hrs. Fresh filled pasta 2days past expiry Fresh premium fruit juices (2) both 2days beyond expiry. A lot expire on the day of delivery. I have been complaining by phone and they are very apologetic and refund the cost but that’s no help when key ingredients of a meal cannot be used and we could not go shopping to replace them.