AN UNDERCOVER investigation has revealed that Waitrose offers the least fresh groceries to online shoppers.
The research by consumer watchdog Which? ranked the major UK supermarkets on the freshness of their products.
Waitrose finished at the bottom of the table, while Tesco, Asda and Ocado came out on top.
Which? used a team of 12 undercover shoppers to order more than 1,000 groceries, with each ordering the same 16 perishable grocery items from each of the online supermarkets.
It totalled up the number of full hours remaining from the time of delivery to midnight on the use-by date for each item and calculated an average time per supermarket.
Tesco's items lasted the longest – for 11 days on average.
The supermarket showed the expected shelf life of perishable items on its website.
There were also no examples of damaged packaging or food that had gone off by the time it was delivered.
Asda was the second freshest supermarket with an average of 10.5 days shelf life on all grocery items.
However,it did deliver one pack of bacon on its use-by date. Online-only supermarket Ocado was a close third with an average of 10.4 days.
Meanwhile, Waitrose finished at the bottom of the table with items lasting an average of 8.6 days.
The high-end supermarket also delivered two packets of beef that appeared to have gone off, despite being within their use-by dates.
Waitrose said: "We always train our Partners to pick products with the longest best before date for online deliveries – we're sorry this fell short of our high standards and are committed to making this better for our customers.
"From time to time we sometimes shorten the date codes on certain fresh produce to ensure it's at optimum quality – so this may also have been a factor behind the results."
All the supermarkets said they train staff to pick food with the longest possible dates for online deliveries and click and collect.
But a number of supermarket workers behind the scenes told Which? that speed targets put them under pressure when trying to pick the freshest groceries.
Groceries that have gone past their use-by dates could be dangerous and should not be eaten.
Undercover shoppers took delivery of two items – both pots of single cream from Sainsbury’s and Ocado – where the use-by date had already passed.
Three items from Asda, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s were delivered on their use-by dates, meaning they had just hours left to be officially safe to eat.
Eight items were delivered with a use-by date of the following day – four from Sainsbury’s, three from Waitrose and one from Morrisons.
Which? also found examples of food within its use-by date that appeared to have gone off.
These included minced beef from Asda, Ocado and Waitrose where the packaging had expanded with air, which is usually a sign that bacteria are growing, as well as a separate pack of dark brown mince from Waitrose and soggy bagged salad from Ocado.
Groceries that have passed their use-by date are not the only problem shoppers complain of when online shopping. Damaged and squashed packaging is another issue.
Which? found that 10 grocery items it ordered were so damaged the food may not have been safe to eat.
These included Morrisons bacon rashers, Ocado pasta salad where the plastic film was torn, to leaking cream and milk from Ocado, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose.
Ocado said: “At Ocado we aim to provide our customers with the best possible experience, including the widest range, greatest value and freshest produce"
A spokesperson for Morrisons said: “We are disappointed to hear that our high quality standards were not met by your shopping panel on this occasion. We are looking into why this may have happened as our in store pickers are coached to pick the best quality products with the longest date code."
Sainsbury’s said: “We regularly listen to customer feedback and our satisfaction scores are strong.
"These findings are also at odds with Which?’s far more comprehensive research from earlier this year, which dubbed Sainsbury’s the UK’s favourite online retailer and only Which? recommended provider for groceries online."
If you have received poor quality groceries in your food delivery you should complain to the supermarket.
Harry Rose, Which? magazine editor, said: “Our analysis shows that when it comes to delivering fresh food and drink there can be a significant difference between online supermarkets.
"Shockingly, our mystery shoppers found some items that were already out of date when delivered, as well as groceries that appeared to have gone off before their use-by dates had even passed.
“Use-by dates are about safety and shoppers should not risk eating out-of-date food. Anyone who is unhappy with the freshness of their online groceries should complain to their supermarket, or switch to a supermarket with better policies on food freshness if possible.”
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