A Which? investigation shows that Amazon is failing to protect customers’ safety by selling banned and unsafe food and drinks aimed at children.
Millions of us use Amazon, eBay and other online marketplaces on a regular basis, undoubtedly more so at the moment.
The convenience of a vast array of products and quick home delivery is hard to resist when we’re at home and shopping online more than we usually would.
Dangerous products aimed at children
While some favourite foods and drinks can be harder to get at the moment, it’s tempting to look to alternative sellers such as online marketplaces and products that we might not usually buy.
But we’ve found several products for sale on Amazon.co.uk that contain ingredients that have been deemed unsafe and banned in the UK.
Jelly sweets containing konjac
Jelly sweets containing konjac are banned in the UK. Their slippery texture presents a choking hazard and these sweets have been linked to deaths of around 18 children worldwide.
But these sweets are widely available on Amazon.
Soft drinks containing brominated vegetable oil
Brominated vegetable oil (BVO) is used in the US in some citrus-flavoured soft drinks and sports drinks.
It prevents the separation of ingredients, but is banned for use in the UK and EU.
This is because bromine can irritate skin, and the moist lining of the nose, mouth, lungs and stomach.
Long-term exposure can cause neurological symptoms such as headaches, memory loss, and impaired balance and coordination.
But we found two soft drinks, Fresca Original Citrus and Mountain Dew code red for sale on Amazon.co.uk.
We contacted Amazon with our findings.
An Amazon spokesperson said: ‘Safety is important to Amazon and we want customers to shop with confidence on our stores. We have proactive measures in place to prevent suspicious or non-compliant products from being listed and we monitor the products sold in our stores for product safety concerns.
‘When appropriate, we remove a product from the store, reach out to sellers, manufacturers and government agencies for additional information, or take other actions. If customers have concerns about an item they have purchased, we encourage them to contact our Customer Service directly so we can investigate and take appropriate action.’
Amazon has removed the above products from sale.
Despite their popularity and rapid growth, online marketplaces don’t offer consumers the same levels of protection as when shopping in a traditional retail store or website.
It can also be more challenging for public authorities to enforce food safety requirements, particularly where sellers may be based outside of the EU or UK and are hard to get hold of, leaving customers vulnerable.
We contacted the Food Standards Agency (FSA) which told us: Everyone involved in online marketplace selling – from the host platforms to the seller – must meet their responsibilities to ensure food is safe. We want these companies to take more responsibility for the products sold on their sites and are in discussion with them with a view to making this happen.
‘We are developing guidance for the sector which will help give greater certainty and clarity around issues of responsibility’.
Sue Davies, head of consumer protection at Which?, said: ‘Amazon Marketplace is a hugely popular place for people to shop online, even more so during the current crisis, yet this is another example of banned products being offered by sellers – and this time it is food that poses risks to children.
‘Online marketplaces are continuing to fail to get a grip on dangerous products being sold on their sites despite years of warnings. The government must therefore make their responsibility clear and ensure that unsafe products, including foods, are prevented from going on sale – and swiftly removed if they are found.’
We’re campaigning for online marketplaces to have: greater legal responsibility for products sold on their sites, clearer requirements for taking down unsafe products, better enforcement and greater transparency for shoppers about who they’re buying from.