From out-of-date frankfurters to bashed brie, online food shopping can be a lottery, especially when it comes to the groceries’ shelf life, according to an investigation by the consumer group Which?.
Groceries delivered by Sainsbury’s were found to have the shortest average time left before their use-by dates, according to the items received by a team of 12 mystery shoppers located around the UK.
The shoppers were asked by Which? to place online orders for 25 items, all with use-by dates, from six major supermarkets, to test the average freshness of the food that arrived on their doorsteps.
The short shelf life of some groceries ordered online is a common gripe, especially at a time when households are watching their budgets closely and food prices continue to rise.
The shoppers ordered a total of 1,800 different items from Asda, Morrisons, Ocado, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose.
Once the shoppers had received their groceries, researchers added up the number of full hours remaining from the time of delivery until midnight on the use-by date of each item, before calculating an average time for each supermarket.
The consumer group found that there was not a huge difference between the overall averages for each supermarket, with a gap of 38 hours between the longest and shortest average shelf life for the perishable items.
Sainsbury’s groceries had the shortest average shelf life at 9.7 days, the investigation found.
Britain’s second-largest supermarket chain even sent one shopper a packet of chilled frankfurters that were already 11 days out of date.
However, Sainsbury’s also delivered the item with the longest shelf life: a stilton that only needed to be eaten within the next 37 days.
A Sainsbury’s spokesperson said: “Our grocery online shoppers are trained to pick the longest date and best available products for customers’ deliveries. We deliver more than 85,000 orders a day on average and are sorry that this tiny number of examples has not lived up to our usual high service. If customers are not happy with the freshness or quality of their groceries, they are able to return products to our drivers at the doorstep for a full refund or contact our careline for help.”
The online grocer Ocado came out top in the investigation, with an average 11.2 day shelf life. However, even mystery shoppers using Ocado received beef mince with just over two days left, according to its use-by date, and a squashed triangle of brie that was still in date.
Ocado said it guaranteed a minimum life for products, ensuring customers could enjoy fresh foods for longer.
“Our clever technology, used to forecast demand, and shorter supply chain means we only order from suppliers what we need, which both minimises waste and increases freshness as our products don’t sit around on a shelf,” said a spokesperson for the online grocer.
Ele Clark, the Which? retail editor, said: “Online grocery shopping is a great way to fill your fridge without having to go to the supermarket or trudge home with heavy bags. Of course, there can be downsides to not choosing products yourself, but no one would expect items to already be out of date when they arrive at the doorstep.
“Shoppers should never have to pay for groceries that are not at their best. Customers not satisfied with their supermarket delivery can complain to the driver or contact the supermarket to get their money back. Any foods that have gone past their use-by date can be dangerous to eat, so it’s not worth the gamble, even if it smells and looks OK.”