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Buying Food Online: What Are the Risks?

Posted in Food Safety on October 20, 2018

Americans are all about convenience, especially as our lives get busier and busier with work and family responsibilities. We want things quicker and easier, and online shopping is one of those brilliant conveniences that has come to the rescue in our thriving, busy lives. But is it actually safe to grocery shop online? While much online shopping is perfectly safe and trustworthy, there is a nagging worry for a lot of people as to what quality and freshness their online-ordered food will be delivered. What are the risks? What are the results? Keep reading to find out!

Online Grocery Shopping Pros

Honestly, the convenience of this luxury is fairly incredible. You can order your food anytime, day or night, weekday or weekend. The delivery process tends to be very easy and you can choose your delivery window. Stores like to send their best-quality products, paying special attention to the freshness of ingredients, in order to minimize the complaints from online customers. You’re able to avoid crowded parking lots and grocery store aisles, and you don’t have to wait in line to check out. And you also get to browse for the best prices on your desired items at your own convenience!

But is this ease-of-shopping worth the delivery fee and risk factors?

Online Grocery Shopping Risks

Anytime you’re shopping online, there are a list of risks and concerns involved. Here are the top five that you should consider before ordering food online.

  1. Online Reviews Could be Faked!

While it’s good to see a reasonable supply of five-star ratings on a business’s page, many businesses have confessed to posting fake reviews in order to boost their rating. While some of these companies are offering refunds in exchange for a write up, when ordering from a new company online, be sure to look into more than just their star rating to determine their reliability. Be skeptical of stars without a detailed review. Check into their Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp reviews and look for real-people comments before diving in and purchasing a week’s worth of groceries.

  1. Lack of Full Disclosure on Prices and Fees

Watch out for “hidden fees,” or carefully hidden fineprint that’ll keep you from getting a discount or free shipping. It’s not unheard of for a seller to advertise free shipping, only for you to find out later that you must subscribe to their membership in order to get the free shipping, which often ends up being far more expensive of a bill than if you just paid for shipping to begin with!

  1. Counterfeit Goods or Contaminated Foods

No matter what you’re buying or where, there will be someone in that market trying to sell counterfeit goods. Even Amazon has difficulty keeping all of their merchandise clean of counterfeit. Just remember that if the price is too good to be true, then that’s most likely exactly what it is. Also, keep an eye out for recalled products. It is still common for online retailers to still sell foods that are recalled by the FDA. This is part of the reason the FDA is pursuing further authority to release the names of retailers of recalled products.

“Knowing where a recalled product was sold during the most dangerous food recalls can be the difference between a consumer going to the hospital or not,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement. “While we can’t prevent every illness, we can make sure we provide information to consumers to prevent more people from becoming sick from a recalled or hazardous food product…Identifying retail locations can be complex…It can involve obtaining information from multiple parts of the supply chain, including the recalling company and intermediate distributors. But we also know this information can be very important to consumers.”

Do your research and don’t ever be afraid to ask questions. Never be pressured into buying things and learn to trust your gut. Additionally, it isn’t unheard of for perishable goods to be delivered already perished. If such a thing happens, be sure not to eat it and report the issue at once.

  1. Your Order Might Never Arrive

That could be the fault of the online seller, or the mailing service. Even big and reputable companies like Walmart and Amazon can struggle with reliable delivery services. This risks cannot be 100% helped, but you can certainly choose your online sellers carefully in order to reduce the risk as much as possible. Only shop from reputable buyers and pay special attention to their delivery reputation.

  1. Identity or Credit Card Theft

Placing your identification or credit card information online is automatically putting you at risk of getting these things stolen. Be especially careful when offering your private information to unknown online retailers, and be sure to check your financial information on a regular basis in order to catch any unwanted activity as quickly as possible. Be sure you maintain careful records of your banking information and pay special attention to your credit report.


Buying food online can be a great convenience for some people, especially those with busy lifestyles, but it certainly presents a great deal of risk to the buyer. When purchasing food online, establishing seller credibility is key to ensuring the food the food delivered  is fresh and pure of contamination. Check reviews, do your research, and be careful what foods you buy. If you ever encounter suspicious activity after online shopping–be it unwanted credit card activity or signs of a food-related illness–report the issue immediately.