/ 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.


I speak only of ASDA I am now totally convinced that they have a selection of short dated, damaged produce which the pickers go to first , I have had sprouts and fruit that no supermarket would ever display front of store , battered cans , open packets, broken eggs , produce with only 1 or 2 days left to run , jars with the lid freshness popper showing it may have been opened, all on too regular basis to believe otherwise, maybe Which could run an undercover sting operation and then name and shame and if they want somewhere to start try ASDA wallington .

Derek says:
23 April 2021

We have regular deliveries from Waitrose and Morrisons and have had no problems over the past year. A pineapple with next day expiry from Waitrose was given free of charge. Our milk has always lasted a week from both. It sounds to me it all depends on your local depot.

Tesco in Yate, Bristol awful awful awful for dates which expire that day or the next, and they rarely provide dates which match their date promises on the grocery site. Despite countless complaints things don’t improve. Tesco also not good with substitution price matches, frequently swap me so I end up with a smaller quantity for the same money. I’ve used Asda and Morrisons and never had these problems..sadly I stay with Tesco as my teenager works there and I need the staff discount!

I use Click and collect from our local Sainsbury’s for our weekly shop. I have lost count of the number of times the sell by dates for the ready meals are within the next few days or even the next day. It’s inconsistent that they list items that are near their sell by dates on the email. I end up telephoning customer service to complain at least twice a month. Ok I get a refund but the food goes to waste and I have to go to Sainsbury’s later in the week, which defeats the object of Click and Collect.

Gordon says:
23 April 2021

We have a regular weekly order from ASDA. Often get short dated fresh and chilled items. Fish with a use by date of the delivery day along with veg with next day use by dates are common. We have some weeks had items with use by dates earlier than the same items delivered the week before. I regularly complain but nothing improves. We sometimes ask for refund online which is always granted but this is followed up with a snooty email telling us to reject the items at the time of delivery. This is not the point as we don’t have time to check all the dates when the driver is waiting to get on with his round. If customers are only ordering once a week and rely on these deliveries then the food supplied should last a reasonable time.

I get on-line shopping from a few shops – Waitrose, Ocado and Sainsbury. In every case I have been disappointed with the use by dates on some items. Certainly not what I would have chosen if I had been shopping in person. At least with Waitrose they sometimes give you an item free if they are short dated. Last week I ordered raspberries from Sainsbury which were so obviously on their last legs the delivery man refunded the money for them. There is no doubt stores are taking advantage of the fact that many of us have to use on-line deliveries at the moment.

I’ve had similar experiences and came to the conclusion stores were disposing of short dated items. Cauliflowers are either very yellow and going off; or the size of an eating apple: fresh fish a short date. Being on one’s own and ending up with a cook it now or it’s wasted. One case of no potatoes and no substitute given on an essential item but on the same order given a substitute for a non essential item. I don’t have transportation so rely on shopping on-line. This applies to all the stores as it’s hard to get a shopping slot.

daphne clarke says:
23 April 2021

I cannot fault the deliveries I have from Tesco. If there is a short life on an item it is always clearly stated on the invoice and pointed out to me by the delivery driver. It doesn’t happen very often. For example, little gem lettuce with a few days’ life. That’s OK – not something I would necessarily discard if it was past its “best before” date. They will usually last long after recommended date. If I order chicken it is probably to put in the freezer so if there is only three days left before its “use by” date it isn’t a problem. I have never had a problem.

Tesco, North Wales. Date on loaf of bread was the same day as delivery and we had our shopping delivered in the evening so no time to use it up!. It was not marked as ‘shorter life product’ and we only noticed it once the driver was gone.

Les says:
23 April 2021

I have received same day use by dates from both Waitrose & Sainsbury’s . Waitrose occasionally provides some same day use by date items free, but this is random i.e. not applied to every same day or tight use by date deadline.
It can be a lottery if hoping for several longer lasting products in a week’s shop.
Freezers save us from over-stretched shopping staff. They, like many many key workers, are poorly paid and suffer challenging work conditions. Caring for one another is not the predominant culture leading even the slightly more altruistic businesses like Waitrose.

I have been ordering online since the beginning of the epidemic. My husband is 76 in a couple of months and I am 74 next month. We had nobody to help with shopping and had great difficulty in getting our food delivered. We eventually managed to get a delivery with Sainsbury’s but were disappointed with the quality of the produce.

We managed during the second lockdown to get orders from Ocado, my normal shopping store being Marks and Spencer’s. At this time Marks were delivering boxes of fruit and vegetables through Deliveroo. They were fantastic and we were delighted with the quality and the dates. We were really pleased to find Ocado was taking over deliveries for Marks. We used them for quite a few months, as and when we could secure a slot . The quality and choice was not good. We were more than disappointed as we expected better from both, particularly Marks. Yes they reimburse but that is not want customers want. They want edible quality products they would choose for themselves with long shelf dates. Products were being received with the next days date and some with the same date as delivery. Strawberries and raspberries were crushed and damaged and were fit for nothing but purée. Ready meals were squashed and had been tipped up. Bread squashed by 2 litre bottles of milk. A full chicken again damaged by putting 2 litre bottles of milk on top of it. On one occasion they sent us carrots which were rotten and dripping in the bag. We were spending a minimum of £120 for what I could only class as products which should not be on sale plus a delivery charge usually in the region of £7. We were throwing out so much food it was obscene.
We were even more incensed when one of the delivery drivers scraped my car trying to carry too many crates in one go. Yes they gave us a derisory £25 credit on another order but there was no letter of apology or anything.

We decided to try to get a slot with Waitrose as we were fed up of our hard earned cash being squandered on what we could only class as rubbish. Waitrose were marginally better and refunded our money without question but again that is not what customers want.

We have now had our second injections but are still very cautious about doing our shopping in store but we have had enough of damaged fruit, inedible vegetables and next day shelf dates delivered by people who have little concern of how they deliver it and almost throw it at you at the door. We believe that they know that the quality of the products is inferior as they cannot get away quick enough more often than not and do not not allow time for it to be checked. We would have continued with the delivery service had it been worth it.

Jayne says:
23 April 2021

Tesco delivers short sell by/use by date items every single delivery, despite me complaining to customer services on a number of occasions and despite me adding a note to certain items on my order asking for a longer use by date.
Sausage rolls, coriander, edamame beans, certain fruit, chicken breasts, mince, all have arrived with use by dates within a day or two of arrival. I would say it’s been a weekly thing for the last 3 months or so, it used to be better.
They also pack a lot of items in individual plastic bags despite me asking that they don’t.

M. Cregeen says:
23 April 2021

Tesco home deliveries, whilst i was shielding. I got a couple of weeks near perfect deliveries then half a dozen problems with one delivery. One item missing, one piece of fruit (pear) rotting around the core. Three items with ‘best before’ dates, two days or next day. One mini chicken roast, delivered on friday for sunday eat, ‘use by’ saturday! I wouldn’t mind but there is a little comment box next to each item as you order. I put “for sunday eat”. I sent back four items with the driver. Got a email on monday with amended bill and a ‘sorry your delivery was not up to our usual standard’. Most annoying though was the cost of delivery. The first two deliveries i got on a everyday saver slot, think? £1-3 but the third delivery, dedicated slot for those shielding cost me £4.50! I had to book all three deliveries two weeks in advance just to get a slot. I tried Sainsburys and Morrisons the following two weeks…ok, i guess.

We used to shop in Sainsburys stores before the pandemic. Since then, once deliveries became available, we have shopped only online for supermarket shopping.

When we shopped in store it wasn’t difficult to select fresh main-meal items that would cover the next week – some may have had less than 7 days, but others would have 7 days or more, so without freezing fresh food it was possible to buy a week’s worth of food.

Shopping online is very different – most fresh meat, for example, only has about 2 to 4 days shelf life. We have reduced our fresh food shop from Sainsburys to normally 3 days worth, and then we use the local village shops.

Sainsburys website says:-
“Our personal shoppers work with you in mind, and will always try to pick the longest dated products. Our typical life icon indicates the estimated life of the item. If you’re not satisfied with the shelf life of any product you receive, we’ll happily give you a refund.”
I don’t believe for a minute that the personal shoppers always try to pick the longest dated products. And most products don’t have a ‘typical life’ icon. Eg. Sainsbury’s Beef Mince 5% Fat 500g – I expect this is a very popular product. If buying it in store then I would expect it to last for 5 – 7 days. If buying online it tends to last about 3 days, but on the website there is no indication as to how many days shelf life it should have. I think this is bad of Sainsburys.

Pauline says:
23 April 2021

I picked up a click & collect order from Sainsbury’s today. Big surprise – everything I ordered was available – hurrah! – doesn’t happen very often. Experience over the past months, however, has taught me to check the expiry dates on all perishable foods. Today I received 2 identical packs of sausages, identical apart from the dates, that is: one had a use by date of 27th April, the other was 24th April. I kept the first and handed the second back. It’s not the first time something like has happened. If the stores invested a little more time in training the pickers it would save them time and money in the long run.

Jason Constable says:
23 April 2021

Its always the fillet chicken from Tesco for me. It used to say 1 week and I had a few deliveries with only about 3-4 days but I have noticed that they have changed it to 4 days now.

Martin Purser says:
23 April 2021

We have been using Waitrose deliveries for more than a year. On occasions short-dated stock (less than a day before “best-before”) has been sent but this has been noted by the packer and the item sent free of charge. General quality and customer service is excellent

Richard A says:
23 April 2021

This happens fairly often with Sainsbury’s. We have a weekly delivery. Last week, we were informed about one item, only to find that another item had a use by date of the day after delivery. We often call to complain and always receive a refund if we do, but on this occasion we just changed our planned meals around.

Richard Hudson says:
23 April 2021

We shop online at Sainsburys, and have definitely noticed an increase in items with a short shelf life recently: in fact, for the last three weeks on the trot we have received items (in the late afternoon) which were due up that very day. Usually we are told by the delivery person and they are quite willing to do a refund. On one day they were not warned that we had received mackerel which was due up the previous day. It had a ‘reduced’ sticker on it but we were charged full price. I rang Sainsbury’s and they refunded the cost.
This week I mentioned to the delivery person that this had happened every week recently with fresh items such as fruit. She said it was the fault of the pickers. I queried whether it might be a deliberate policy to get rid of stuff but she thought they were just not bothering to check the dates.

Given (a) that use-by dates [the critical ones] for most fresh produce are seldom further than four or five days ahead even if you buy something in the store, and (b) that orders are picked from the stock in the store, it is highly likely that short consumption dates are the norm except for foods that have been specially treated or packed [e.g. filtered milk and some cooked meats] to give a longer life. So, if buying for meals across a fortnight before the next delivery, it is necessary to consider carefully the balance of fresh and processed food, what capacity you have to freeze food, and how best to structure your consumption across the period. I believe all the supermarkets endeavour to send the longest-dated items at the time of picking the order, but that has been widely disputed in this Conversation and many have suggested that there is a deliberate policy of using the delivery orders to shift the short-dated stock; I don’t expect we will ever get an honest answer on that.

The timing of the delivery in the chosen slot is also significant. The earlier in the day that you book it for will give the highest chance of getting the longest period before fresh produce has to be eaten. The later the delivery slot the more likely the order will be picked during the afternoon or evening when there is less longer-dated stock on the shelves.

As more people return to shopping in-store this will become even more important but if demand for deliveries reduces in line with the increase in store visits more slots should become available and ordering for weekly deliveries might become easier.