Food Safety: A New Concern About Meal Delivery Kits
By Tyler Kim, RDBA Dietetic Intern, Wellness Workdays
Meal delivery kits are gaining popularity as consumers are seeking to strike a balance between home-cooked meals and convenience. Pre-portioned, relatively affordable, and delivered straight to the doorstep, it is understandably easy to overlook a few shortcomings. Though popular complaints include logistics like over-packaging, one of the most important issues has remained mostly overlooked. Recently, the topic of food safety has gained increasing attention after research presented by a Rutgers University professor at the 2017 Food Safety Summit revealed some critical shortcomings:
- Deliveries were likely to be sitting outside for 8+ hours, with only 5% requiring signature.
- Responsibility for timely delivery was unclaimed by both meal kit company and delivery service (FedEx, UPS, USPS, etc.).
- This ultimately manifested in unsafe temperatures, with almost half of the 684 inspected items having surface temperatures above 40 degrees, rendering them unsafe for consumption.
- Researchers tested extremely high microbial contamination in the meat, fish, and poultry, especially in samples found to be above 60 degrees.
- Despite these concerns, only 42% of these companies provided any food safety information on their websites, most of which was difficult to find and sometimes even inaccurate.
Though this research was the first of its kind, it is likely not the last as it examined 169 meal kits (included meat, fish, and poultry), and involved over 1000 consumer interviews and 400 vendor website reviews.
So, what does this mean for the retail dietitian? To start, most of the issues above can be attributed to discrepancies in cold-chain integrity, which involves the packing, storing, and shipping of foods. In-store meal kits have the advantage of skipping the additional shipping and storing links responsible for most of these problems. By tightening up (or creating) meal kit-specific food safety SOPs that include packaging, storing, and regular quality control, as well as by providing necessary food safety information to customers (especially for meat/fish/poultry), retailers can assure higher standards of food safety for their shoppers.
Despite the rapid growth of these meal delivery kits posing a new form of competition for retailers, most successful components of this concept are inherent to in-store kits as well: minimal food waste, experience of cooking with little preparation, good taste, quality ingredients, and healthy options. Where then, can the in-store meal kit make up for the added convenience of home-delivery? Perhaps start simply with the safety of the food itself.
Tyler Kim is a recent graduate of Cornell University's dietetics program, currently completing her dietetic internship with Wellness Workdays concentrating in Nutrition Communications & Marketing. As part of her internship, she is spending six weeks as an intern with the Retail Dietitians Business Alliance.