Expired Food, Blue Strawberries and ‘Fairyland Fruit’ Being Sold on Amazon

As we all know, Amazon has its hand in just about everything these days. I’m sure none of us was shocked when the online giant started selling food recently. Especially after it acquired Whole Foods.

But I have to admit I was surprised when I learned Amazon’s newest scandal. They are selling expired food. Everything from expired baby food to old beef jerky.

Not to mention blue strawberries and “fairyland fruit.” But more on that later.

This is not good for a major company’s reputation. Or for its stock. Following a recent CNBC report, Amazon officials went into damage control mode.

Third-Party Sellers a Necessary Problem

Before Amazon grew into the $900 billion behemoth it is today, decision makers knew something. They realized they’d have to count on third-party sellers.

A good company can make a lot providing goods directly to its customers. But it can make even more by allowing third-party sellers to reach more people.

So, they set up a huge system with millions of third-parties. That’s great for sales growth. But it becomes more difficult to control things.

Such as the condition of items by those third parties. And that includes expired food.

Not an Isolated Problem

Among the expired foods consumers are receiving in the mail are baby food. Plus coffee creamer and hot sauce. One customer said a creamer had a “rancid smell.” Another said the creamer had already curdled.

Other expired foods include beef jerky, granola bars, Hostess brownies and Goldfish crackers. Some of these food items are merely expired. Others are actually spoiled upon arrival.

How bad is the problem? Here’s what a data analytics firm determined. About 40 percent of Amazon food sellers had more than five complaints about expired food. That’s a lot of complaints.

Teavana products such as fruit teas and rock sugar were discontinued two years ago. But some third-party sellers are still listing them on Amazon.

Policies Not Being Enforced

Amazon officials have responded to this situation. They say third-party sellers must provide them with expiration dates for consumption items.

And the vender must also assure that the item has a shelf life of at least 90 days. The question becomes, is that policy enforced?

Thomas Gremillion is director of food policy at Consumer Federation of America. Here’s what he says.

“There’s no indication of how well that policy is enforced,” he said. “Some venders could be making a business decision to provide expired products. And (then) let Amazon catch some of it and toss it out. And (then) persist.”

Everyone Loses

So, who loses when Amazon’s third-parties send expired food to consumers? Pretty much everybody.

The food recipients lose because they don’t get what they wanted. Amazon loses reputation points.

The food brands lose because customers will associate expired food with those brands. And eventually guilty third-parties will lose because Amazon will end its relationship with them.

In other words, nobody triumphs. Some consumer safety advocates say the problem will probably get worse before it gets better.

Product Safety Issues

It’s not only expired food that Amazon has to worry about. Some of their third-party sellers also sell counterfeits and unsafe products.

Back in August, a Wall Street Journal investigation rocked Amazon’s world. It revealed a major safety problem. The company allowed third-parties to list thousands of products without consumer safety protocols.

Members of Congress got involved immediately. A letter addressed to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos asked him to take down those items. And to overhaul their policy.

It was signed by Senators Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. As well as Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts.

Too Many Businesses, Too Little Time

Amazon officials say they try to police this type of thing. As they do with food. They use both artificial intelligence and humans for this purpose.

But their empire has grown so large, it has become a major challenge. Approximately 2.5 million businesses use Amazon for distribution.

These businesses now account for some 58 percent of Amazon’s total merchandise sold.

Sometimes the vendors acquire items from official distributors. Other times the items come from flea markets, marked-down aisles and elsewhere.

How Should Consumers Respond?

What can consumers do when they receive expired food and other undesirable items?

Amazon suggests they contact the vendor’s customer service department. Amazon promises to “investigate and take appropriate action.”

If a customer receives a faulty item from a third-party seller, it’s usually not the end of the world. It’s an inconvenience, to be sure. And it’s frustrating.

But an expired food item can be much worse. Especially if it’s expired baby formula and the recipient does not look at the expiration date.

Blue Strawberry Seeds?

One of the food items being provided on Amazon is blue strawberry seeds. They might not have expired, but according to the Observer newspaper, they don’t really exist.

The article says these “fairyland fruits” are advertised to con gardeners out of their seed funds.

Some vendors even give a backstory. They say blue strawberries were created by Japanese scientists and spliced together with a fish gene.

Customers will receive seed packets if they order. But they’ll never have blue strawberries unless they spray paint them.

The lesson here from Amazon purchasing is obvious: buyers beware.

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