Is Online Grocery Shopping All It’s Cracked Up to Be?

Online grocery shopping has exploded over the past couple of years. For obvious reasons.

Many people have chosen this method of food delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic. Especially seniors, in order to avoid crowded settings.

Plenty of younger people have also selected online grocery shopping. Due in part to becoming increasingly busy at their jobs.

Taking on a food buyer role was just what some people needed. Such as those looking for work at a time when some businesses shut down or cut back on staff.

Downsides to Consider

Online grocery shopping seems like a win-win for many. But there are a few downsides.

Shoppers are not perfect. So, you’ve probably received the wrong item on more than one occasion.

Some buyers are conscientious about notifying you that certain items are unavailable. And offering a substitute. Others, not so much.

Sometimes your grocery items arrive in a timely fashion. Other times it takes considerably longer for your doorbell to ring.

Nutritional Info Is Lacking

But at the end of the day, most downsides are minor inconveniences. What may be a bigger problem with online grocery shopping is the quality of the items you acquire.

Many people like to examine nutritional information on containers of food. While they are shopping in-person.

Packaged foods are required by federal regulations to contain nutritional facts. As well as ingredients. That way consumers can review them while they shop in brick and mortar stores.

But that’s not always an option when you’re shopping remotely. That’s according to a study published in Public Health Nutrition.

Food Allergens Undisclosed

The 2021 study involved 10 major national packaged products across nine online realtors. It found that nutritional facts and ingredients lists were sometimes missing entirely.

Others offered partial information. In nearly two-thirds of products containing such information, food allergens were not disclosed.

Among information requiring listing on products are serving sizes and calories.

As well as added sugars, allergens and ingredients. Plus daily values of sodium, sugar, carbohydrates, fats and protein.

Your Health Is at Stake

Jennifer Pomeranz is an assistant professor of public health policy and management. She’s based at the New York University School of Global Public Health. Here’s what she said.

“I think it’s a misconception that people don’t read food labels. (Such as) people who have been diagnosed with a disease. Or told that they are at risk for disease… the elderly, people with children, people with allergies.

“People read food labels for different reasons. And it’s incredibly important for safety purposes.”

She added this. “I would argue that not disclosing the nutrition facts panel and the ingredients list, including allergens, is an unfair or deceptive act.”

Online Platforms Fall Short

Wendy White is an industry manager for food and beverages. She’s based at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

She believes it isn’t so much a deceptive act as it is a logistical matter. She believes the pandemic caught many retailers unaware.

And that they were forced to put their e-commerce platforms together too quickly. As a result, they failed to include the information listed on the products themselves.

“I think the FDA (is) definitely taking steps to correct this gap that we currently have in some types of online food sales,” she said.

“But unfortunately, the speed at which the FDA can create and then enforce regulations is notably slow.”

FDA Tries to Recover

An FDA spokesperson said the agency recommends that online nutritional information be similar to what’s listed on in-store products.

But the FDA also acknowledges this. Most of its online labeling requirements were put in place prior to the increase in online grocery sales.

Correcting this issue is important to many people concerned about their health. As a nation, we have become more cautious about what we consume.

Shoppers are now used to reading labels in stores. But they have not always been able to find that type of information on many food items they purchase online. White suggests shopping with retailers that provide nutritional information on their online platforms.

Frances Fleming-Milici is a researcher at the University of Connecticut. She’s with the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Health. She said, “I would really like to see policy change to address this.”

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