Home delivery meal kits — source of good food or food poisoning?

Tuesday, 16 May, 2017

At the recent 2017 Food Safety Summit in the US, Bill Hallman, professor at Rutgers Department of Human Ecology, presented the results of a Rutgers University and Tennessee State University investigation into the integrity of ready-to-cook dinner packages. And it wasn’t pretty.

The researchers had ordered and tested hundreds of meat, poultry, game and seafood items from home delivery systems such as meal kits, interviewed 1002 consumers and examined food safety information on 427 domestic food delivery vendor websites.

The surface temperatures on products the researchers received ranged from -30°C (product packed in dry ice) to 24°C (usually gel packs as coolant). Also, there was frequently significant variation in surface temperatures among items in the same shipment and even on different locations on the same product. The actual packing techniques were often at fault as there was insufficient dunnage and the items did not remain adjacent to the coolant during transport.

Almost half of the products had surface temperatures above 4.4°C when they were received.

The researchers also looked at the pathogen load carried by the foods. Here the results were not always predictable, some ‘cool’ products had high loads, probably reflecting the kit preparation environment. However, all products with surface temperatures above 15°C had high pathogen loads.

Glenda Lewis, from the FDA’s retail food protection section, said the agency is studying the issue, but has not yet issued any guidance on home delivery.

The larger, more established companies generally performed better in delivering product that is safe to eat but there is a lot of education needed to ensure that all foods delivered as meal kits feed the people rather than sicken them.

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