Safety can be an issue with home delivery of foods

Stephanie Smith, Food Safety

Subscription mail kits, restaurant delivery, grocery delivery, and mail-order food have grown in popularity, especially during the pandemic. These services are convenient and can help limit potential exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19. For many companies and restaurants, home food delivery is a new endeavor.

Regardless if the business is new to this service, or has been delivering food for decades, food needs to be handled properly to ensure safety. Perishable foods held between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, for longer than two hours can allow disease-causing bacteria to grow rapidly. These bacteria may not affect the taste, smell, or appearance of a food making it difficult to determine if the food is safe to eat. Here are some tips from USDA and CDC to ensure food received at home is safe.

Subscription meal kits and mail-order

According to the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service, the food mail-order industry has had a good safety record, but food still needs to be handled properly to ensure safety and proper shelf life. Perishable items like meat or poultry, and other refrigerated or frozen foods, need to be packed with dry ice or ice packs to maintain the proper temperature of the food. Moreover, the food should be packed in insulated materials such as foam or heavy corrugated cardboard.

The food should ideally be shipped using an overnight mail service and the package should be labelled “Keep Refrigerated” or “Keep Frozen.” It is best to ensure someone will be home to receive the delivery as soon as it arrives. Additionally, you should only accept receipts of food packages that are undamaged and not leaking. If no one will be home to receive the food, the package should be delivered to a cool, shaded and secure location where animals won’t be able to get it.

Upon receiving the package, open it immediately and inspect the food to make sure it is at a safe temperature. Frozen food should arrive frozen or at least below 40 F. Vacuum packed food that is not shelf stable must be received at temperatures below 40 F. Clostridium botulinum, the organism that produces the botulism toxin, can grow at temperatures above 40 F in vacuum packed food. If perishable food arrives at a temperature above 40 F, as measured with a food thermometer, do not consume the food and notify the company. Be sure to refrigerate or freeze perishable food immediately upon arrival.

Grocery delivery

As with food delivered by mail, perishable groceries should be packed in materials that will maintain the food at proper temperatures. You should choose a date and time for delivery when someone will be home to receive and put away the food. The food should be transported to the home in clean vehicles that are suitable for the transportation of food. The food packaging should not be damaged, soiled or leaking. Moreover, food should be properly separated to prevent cross contamination of food. For example, meat should never be packaged with produce or other ready to eat food. If food has been packaged improperly, is not at the correct temperature, or the packaging is compromised, you should refuse the delivery.

Upon receipt of your groceries, inspect each item to ensure it is at the proper temperature and in good condition. If any issues are identified, do not consume the food and notify the delivery company or store. Refrigerate or freeze perishable food immediately upon receipt.

Restaurant delivery

Although restaurant food delivery has been around for quite some time, there are still some things you should be aware of to ensure the food is handled properly and safe to consume upon delivery. Food should be transported in vehicles that are clean and free of insects, dirt, animals, chemicals, and other potential contaminants. Food delivered by restaurants should be transported in insulated containers to ensure hot food is kept hot and cold food stays cold. Once the food has been cooked or leaves refrigeration at the restaurant, it needs to be maintained at the proper temperature, or be delivered and consumed within the two-hour window. If food cannot be consumed within this time frame, it needs to be refrigerated or frozen before two hours has elapsed. If food has been left at temperatures between 40 and 140 F for longer than two hours it must be discarded.

Ready to eat foods should be packed and held separately from food that must be cooked, to prevent cross-contamination. As with any food delivery, someone should be home to receive the food and inspect it upon receipt to ensure packaging is not leaking and the food is at the proper temperature.

Food delivery is a great way to save time and allow for greater social distancing. Make sure the food you spend your money on is safe and healthy and won’t result in foodborne illness. For more information on safety of delivered food please visit https://bit.ly/37XiVWB or https://bit.ly/2WRfTg3.

Stephanie Smith is an assistant professor and statewide consumer food specialist for Washington State University. She can be reached at food.safety@wsu.edu. If you have a food safety question you would like to see appear in this column, send your question to food.safety@wsu.edu.

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