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19 May 2021

Supermarket sends shoppers out-of-date food in online grocery orders

Dozens of shoppers take to social media after being sent food they can't eat

Which? has heard from dozens of people who have received food that's either off, or about to go off, in their online supermarket deliveries.

Shoppers who have placed orders with Asda, Sainsbury's and other major supermarkets told Which? they've been sent food that needed to be used on the date of delivery, while some have even been sent items that were out of date.

Below, shoppers tell their stories and we reveal what to do if you receive food with a very short shelf life in your grocery order.

Asda shoppers sent out-of-date meat

After spotting a number of complaints on social media from shoppers who had received food with the same use-by and delivery date, we asked for people's experiences via our own social channels and on Which? Conversation. All those who agreed to be included as case studies were Asda and Sainsbury's shoppers, but we did hear from people who had bought from other supermarkets, too.

Agnes Dickson from the Scottish Borders had to ask her brother to do her shopping, after she was sent several out-of-date items from Asda.

She noticed that her hot cross buns were past their best-before date when they arrived at her house, and she handed them back to the delivery driver. Unfortunately, it wasn't until the driver had left that she spotted that the beef joint she'd received was four days past its use-by date.

Agnes has a chronic illness, and relies on groceries being delivered to her home. She said she's been 'put off buying online' by the issues she has experienced.

Special meal 'ruined'

Another online shopper told Which? that their plan for a celebratory meal to mark the easing of lockdown was 'ruined' when they received steak that was a week past its use-by date.

Asda has since refunded the price of the steak and added a £10 voucher to the customer's online account. But the shopper still feels let down and reluctant to continue shopping there.

We also heard from Chris Hodgkins, from Harlow in Essex, who had to go to Asda himself after receiving bread and milk at 9.15pm with use-by dates of the following day.

'The experience made a nonsense of the need for my delivery,' he said. 'I claimed both items back [on Asda's website] and got a refund for both, but I'm slightly vulnerable and tried to avoid the shops as much as possible.'

Chris no longer shops at Asda.

'Sainsbury's didn't even apologise'

Jenna Bray from Leicester said that Sainsbury's has repeatedly included out-of-date items with her orders.

Jenna told Which? she was given chocolate mousse that reached its use-by date the same day she received her shopping, and wasn't informed about it.

She got in touch with Sainsbury's on Twitter to share what had happened, and the supermarket responded with a link outlining its Short Shelf Life policy. 'I didn't even get an apology from them, so I no longer shop there,' said Jenna.

Abby Skipper from Belfast ordered a fruit platter for her son's birthday, but its use-by date was just one day after the delivery took place. This meant it was inedible by the time the party came around, two days after she received her items.

How did Asda and Sainsbury's respond?

When we presented our evidence to Asda, it said: 'We successfully deliver hundreds of thousands of orders every week, and if any of our customers are unhappy with an item that's been delivered, they can give it back to our driver and will be provided with a full refund.

'Our pickers work hard to ensure that the products they choose are well within their use-by dates so our customers get the freshest produce available, but we are sorry if any of our customers feel they have not received the quality they expect.'

Sainsbury's said: 'If a shorter-life product is due to be included in a customer's order, we will email to let them know in advance and they have the option of returning it to the driver for a refund.

'There are some exceptions, such as fresh bakery items and fruit, as they naturally have a short product life.'

Use-by dates vs best-before

Use-by dates are designed to show when a food product might no longer be safe to eat. You shouldn't eat, cook or freeze it after the date displayed. Therefore, when a supermarket sends several items close to their use-by dates as part of a home delivery, it can be difficult or impossible to consume the products within the safe timeframe.

Best-before dates, meanwhile, are an indication of quality rather than safety. An item that's past its best-before date might be fine to eat, but won't retain the quality you might expect.

Sainsbury's has also told customers on social media on dozens of occasions that its Short Life Policy is designed to minimise food waste, but doesn't state as much in its description of the regulations on its website.

Food past its use-by date must not remain available for sale and shouldn't be consumed after that date, says Andrew Parry, special advisor for food and drink at Waste and Resources Action Programme (Wrap). He adds, however, that Wrap supports any initiative aiming to reduce food waste, and Sainsbury's is 'being transparent about when short-shelf life foods are supplied, and giving customers the option to decline them'.

Despite what its social media team have told customers, Sainsbury's insists its policy isn't designed to help it cut back on food waste. 'We can reassure customers that we have entirely separate policies and processes for managing food waste and they will always receive the freshest possible produce available,' it told Which?.

What are the supermarkets' policies on use-by dates?

Each supermarket that offers online deliveries has its own policy on the length of shelf life people can expect products to have when they arrive. These are outlined below.

However, our research shows that supermarkets don't always adhere to their own policies. Retailers should take responsibility for sticking to their own guidelines, rather than the onus being placed on individual shoppers to have to complain and ask for refunds.

Here is what each of the supermarkets told Which?:

Supermarket (links take you to our review of each supermarket)Policy on products with imminent use-by dates
AsdaCustomers unhappy with any products can apply for a refund on Asda's website, or hand the item(s) back to the driver at the time of delivery, which will automatically start the refund process. Its customer service line is 0800 952 0101.
Co-opIf a shopper receives an item they are not completely satisfied with, they can request a refund on The Co-op's website or by calling 0800 068 6727.
IcelandIceland said it's reasonable for perishables to have a shelf life of less than two days when they are delivered to shoppers, although it aims to avoid this. If you're dissatisfied with a product, call 0800 328 0800 to request a refund.
MorrisonsThe number of days before items reach their use-by dates are listed on Morrisons' website for orders packed at its distribution centres. It has a commitment not to send products with imminent use-by dates for orders picked in stores. If you do receive an item with an imminent use-by date, contact Morrisons online or call 0345 322 0000 for a refund.
OcadoOcado guarantees how long individual items should last for beyond the date of delivery (this is explained more fully on its refund page). If you're unhappy with an item, you canselect the 'request refund' link from your orders page or contact Ocado via live chat, email or telephone on 0345 656 1234.
Sainsbury'sIf a shorter-life product, including anything dated the day of, or day after, delivery, is due to be included in a customer's order, Sainsbury's will email you prior to delivery. You then have the option of rejecting the item upon delivery and asking for a refund. If you need to request a refund after delivery, call 0800 636262.
TescoShoppers are shown the number of days each item has before it reaches its use-by date. If you're unhappy, you can reject any items on the doorstep and a refund will then be processed. Alternatively, you can call 0800 505555.