Home Delivery…we took the test!

A recent study presented at the 2017 Food Safety Summit raised concerns about pathogens, packaging, and labeling and cold-chain integrity affecting home deliveries.

It’s that time of the year again, when the holiday season is upon us, Christmas concerts are scheduled for every day of the week, college aged children are coming home for holiday break and the stores are packed with people trying to do their Christmas shopping. The last thing on your mind is to venture out into the chaos to buy supplies for dinner. So what’s a person to do? You go online and you order your weekly dinner menu for the week from a Meal Delivery Company. There are abundance of choices out there for this type of service ranging from Home Chef, Sun Basket, HelloFresh, Blue Apron, Martha & Marley Spoon to name a few. The idea is that you order your food and the next day the ingredients and instructions arrive at your doorstep in a cardboard box surrounded by freezer bags, ready to turn even the most novice of cooks, like myself, into a personal chef for the week. What could go wrong, as it seems so easy? In reality, a lot could go wrong. The food could be damaged; ingredients mislabeled or worse, exceed critical temperature limits for Food Safety. We decided to “take the test” by ordering meals for the week from one of the previously noted companies.

The next day the food arrived at the door and unfortunately, there was a small note from UPS indicating that the box was damaged during the shipping process exposing the foil wrapped contents within the box. At this point, we highly recommend that the supplier should be contacted and the shipment should be rejected as the integrity of the shipping container was impacted. This appears to be a one-off event as we have had several other shipments from the company where the box was intact upon arrival. We also notified the supplier of the issue.

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Next, we decided to test the internal ingredients with our Temperature Measurement Device (TMD). The ingredients were all in a temperature range between 35- 39 degrees Fahrenheit, which seemed a little on the high end of the temperature scale for chicken and fish. We attributed this to the fact that the delivery was left unattended on the porch for an extended period, as we were not home when it arrived. The USDA specifies a zone between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit as the danger zone where bacteria grow most rapidly. We recommend that any home delivery of food should be temperature tested to ensure that the refrigeration of the food is adequate before consumption. The temperature check can be accomplished with a simple thermometer found in most cooking stores. We’ve also reached out to the company to let them know the product was found to be at the high end of the preferred temperature scale. Ideally, some sort of temperature indicator would be ideal to add to the shipment to alert the consumer that the food was maintained within ideal temperature range for Food Safety. Finally, if you are going to order home delivery it’s wise to have someone home to receive the shipment as the cooling packs will only last so long.

Lastly, we looked at the labelling and ingredients of the order to compare them to what we had ordered to what we had received.

Two out of three of the ingredient cards matched up with the product ordered. One was clearly not the correct card as we had ordered the chili and received a burger meal instead. We were a little concerned with this as it’s very common for people to have food allergies and understanding the ingredients is critical to avoiding a potential health issue. For the consumer, we highly recommend that the product’s contents be verified against the ingredients cards to avoid any potential allergic reaction. We also suggested to the supplier that a simple barcode process could be used on the ingredient card and the ordered items to avoid any potential mismatch of ingredients and ingredient cards. Using this technique, the food delivery supplier would only need to scan bar code on the ingredients and ingredients card to ensure a match between the two. As a suggestion, if the supplier was using a PAR SureCheck Advantage with integrated barcode scanner, temperature probe and HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) checklist, the system would automatically notify the employee if a violation had occurred in the preparation process and digitally store the results in the cloud.

At the current time, the FDA’s Retail Food Protection staff has not issued any guidance on home delivery. A recent Rutgers-Tennessee State University study presented at the 2017 Food Safety Summit raised concerns about pathogens, packaging, and labelling and cold-chain integrity affecting home deliveries. One of the key concerns cited by the study was the temperature of food upon arrival, after it has been left outside for 8 hours or more. This was the same concern that we cited in our test results. So what can the consumer do? It is highly recommended that the consumer does not become complacent with home delivery of food. When you go to a grocery store or dine out at a restaurant, there are very strict guidelines and regulations associated with the proper temperatures of food, which need to be maintained to avoid a food borne illness. Without these regulations being imposed by the FDA on home deliveries, it is incumbent upon the consumer to take the step to “inspect, check and temp” the food for safe consumption.

Safe Eating…the PAR Technology Food Safety Team