Recently, I wrote about a turkey Wellington I ordered from Harry & David. Unfortunately, it sat in the FedEx warehouse for about 10 days. I knew it wasn’t safe to eat. I got my money back.
For some time, however, I’ve wondered about the safety of home delivered meals.
During the pandemic with so many people staying home, the sale of fresh-food meal kit deliveries skyrocketed.
In 2021, about two dozen home meal kit delivery businesses made $6.9 billion in sales. Continued growth by Blue Apron, Home Chef, Hello Fresh, and others mean sales will likely reach $10 billion by 2024.
The food safety of these home deliveries, especially the so-called last mile, is getting attention from the Food and Drug Administration and university researchers, according to an article in Food Safety News, an online newsletter.
The article reported on the findings from a North Carolina State University study: The majority of meal kits delivered to consumers contain one or more perishable food items that have been exposed to temperatures above the 40-degree Fahrenheit safety zone that impedes the growth of potentially harmful bacteria.
More specifically, the study reported:
The researchers evaluated 72 deliveries of identical menu items from 12 leading companies that deliver meal kits, ready-to-eat meals, or perishable foods via a delivery service such as FedEx. Key findings of the study include:
- More than 76 percent of the 72 boxes delivered included at least one product above the 40-degree F. food safety zone.
- Nearly 42 percent of the companies had all deliveries above 40 degrees F.
- Fifty percent of the companies shipped boxes with at least one meat or poultry product above 40 degrees F. Nearly 17 percent of those companies had all deliveries over 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
- More than 58 percent of the 12 companies shipped boxes with at least one fruit or vegetable product above 40 degrees F. Of those companies, more than 41 percent had all packages arrive over 40 degrees F.
- The study also confirmed that transit times are a major factor in product safety. Deliveries with a total travel time of 20 hours or less had the lowest average box temperatures, while those with transit times of 40 hours or more had the highest average box temperatures.
In addition, researchers found the types and quantities of packaging coolants used significantly impact perishable food safety. About 17 percent of deliveries using dry ice had at least one item above 40 degrees F. Of deliveries shipped using gel packs, 93 percent had at least one item above 40 degrees F. All the deliveries containing two kilograms or less of gel packets had at least one item above 40 degrees, and 90 percent of deliveries containing six kilograms or more of gel packets had at least one item above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
The researchers concluded the meal kit industry needs to more accurately track and measure temperatures throughout the products’ journey to better control food safety and build confidence in the rapidly growing direct-to-consumer food delivery industry.
The article reported there is a way to track the temperature of meals that are shipped. Varcode provides variable barcode technology that monitors meal kits and other temperature sensitive products to final delivery.