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The downside of online grocery shopping: 'You can't check all the sell-by dates'

3 February 2021 6:46 PM

Covid-19 restrictions around the world have led to the huge popularity of online supermarket shopping, but there's a catch.

While ordering groceries online can be safer and more convenient, consumer journalist Wendy Knowler says there's a downside.

Online shoppers are unable to check the sell-by dates and best-before dates on the food items that they purchase.

A number of CapeTalk listeners have complained about receiving online grocery orders containing food that has "expired".

Knowler explains that consumers must make an important distinction between the different dates that appear on their groceries to avoid confusion and food wastage.

Image: © rido/

Best-before dates:

Best-before dates are placed on foods that have a longer shelf life, such as canned food, rice, cereal, pasta, sauces, coffee, and biscuits.

Eating food that has passed its best-before date is still safe, however, the taste and quality may be different.

"It is not illegal to sell goods the are past their best-before dates", Knowler explains.

Sell-by date:

Sell-by dates are used by retailers for internal stock control. This date refers to a product's shelf life in-store.

Retailers can legally sell food on the day of the listed sell-by date, says Knowler. It also still acceptable to eat the food on that date.

Use-by date:

A use-by date on grocery items is about food safety. It can often be found on food that has a shorter shelf life, such as dairy goods, fresh produce, meat products, or ready-to-eat salads.

It is illegal for retailers to sell food that has passed its use-by date, Knowler adds.

RELATED: You're probably reading expiry dates wrong (and wasting food in the process)

A lot of people are getting food on the sell-by date, which is perfectly safe and legal... but to them [they see it as] an expiry date.

Wendy Knowler, Consumer journalist

People just read all the dates as the 'expiry date'.

Wendy Knowler, Consumer journalist

That's the downside of online [shopping], you can't check all the dates or forage around in the fridge.

Wendy Knowler, Consumer journalist

Food that's being delivered or on sale on the sell-by date is not necessarily a problem... You might have got a sell-by date of a day or two later if you pick it out yourself.

Wendy Knowler, Consumer journalist

It's the use-by date on perishable items that's [critical]... It's not illegal to sell goods the are past their best-before dates... It's only illegal to sell foods past their use-by dates because that is a food safety issue. Best-before dates is a food quality issue.

Wendy Knowler, Consumer journalist

Knowler talks a range of consumer issues during her weekly ConsumerTalk feature on CapeTalk.

Listen to the ConsumerTalk segment on Lunch with Pippa Hudson:

3 February 2021 6:46 PM

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