Question: I’m using a meal kit delivery service for the first time. What do I need to be aware of when ordering and when the food arrives?
Answer: Meal kit delivery and food preparation services have grown in popularity in recent years, with revenue in that sector expected to grow to over $10 billion in 2020, up from $1 billion in 2015, according to Statista Inc., a New York-based market and consumer data firm.
Ease and convenience are some of the factors for that increase, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But, it’s important that safe food handling methods are used when receiving food through a mail delivery service, especially when receiving perishable foods, food safety experts say.
Whether it be a subscription meal kit, mail-ordered food, or groceries delivered to your home from a local grocery store, home-delivered food must be handled properly to ensure food safety, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a posting.
Consumers are advised to research a company and its practices regarding food safety before placing an order. One thing to consider is whether the company offers instructions for safe handling and preparation of the food, including cooking temperature, with each shipment, the CDC said.
It’s also important to research, if possible, how the company deals with food that is delivered at an unsafe temperature. For example, perishable foods—especially meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs—should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours. When this happens, the food can enter the “danger zone,” a range of temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit at which bacteria grows most rapidly.
“It can be difficult for consumers to gather information on the practices and policies of meal delivery services in order to make an informed decision regarding food safety,” said Abigail Snyder, an assistant professor and food safety field specialist for the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) at The Ohio State University.
“However, checking the temperature of perishable foods when they are received, cooking raw meat products to the appropriate USDA-recommended internal temperature, and checking the delivery for damage or leaks that can lead to cross-contamination are practices consumers can implement themselves,” she said.
Additionally, the CDC recommends that you:
Arrange for the food to be delivered when someone is at home so that it can be refrigerated quickly instead of being left outside for extended periods of time.
Find a safe space for delivery if no one will be at home when the food arrives. Food should be delivered to a cool, shaded, and secure location where pests and rodents can’t access it. Let the company know where you would like them to leave your box.
Examine both the box and the packaging in which the food was delivered. If you ordered perishable food such as meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, or dairy, look for stickers on the box that say “Keep Refrigerated” or “Keep Frozen.”
Make sure that the company used insulated packaging and materials such as dry ice or frozen gel packs to keep all of the perishable food cold in transit.
Refrigerate or freeze your delivery as soon as possible until you are ready to prepare it. Remember, bacteria can multiply rapidly if food is kept in the danger zone between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit for more than two hours.
Lastly, use a food thermometer to accurately measure the delivered food’s temperature. If the food is warmer than 40 degrees Fahrenheit, don’t eat it. Instead, contact the company to find out whether they will offer you a replacement since you will not know how long the food has been in the danger zone.
Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or [email protected]