- A recent study of meal kit providers found that nearly half (47%) of the 684 proteins ordered arrived at temperatures deemed too high for consumption, according to Supermarket News.
- Researchers at Rutgers and Tennessee State University, who carried out the study, said that seafood is especially difficult to keep consistently cool because it is often not of uniform density. The researchers said proteins that were shipped frozen most often arrived at a safe temperature, and that proper packing procedures could prevent significant temperature changes.
- FreshDirect's Seafood Merchant Michael Kanter said that delivering fresh seafood requires total control of temperature throughout the supply chain, which the company maintains through a straight-line supply chain from plant to delivery truck. Kenneth Wu, founder and CEO of Los Angeles-based grocery delivery service Milk and Eggs, said his company focuses on shortening delivery times to ensure product freshness and safety, and typically gets orders to customers in one to two hours.
This study’s results seem to reflect the Wild West environment of the meal kit industry right now, where scores of startups have jumped in to try and claim a slice of the market. Many of these new players, it appears, are not up to code on proper temperature control and handling procedures.
As Food Safety News reported back in May, when the study was released, researchers logged temperatures ranging from minus 23 degrees for items cooled with dry ice to 75 degrees Fahrenheit for some items cooled with gel packs. In all, 47% of the items the researchers ordered were above 40 degrees, which experts say is the temperature threshold for safe consumption.
Food safety violations and concerns could further damage the meal kit market, where turning a profit is proving an exceedingly difficult task. At the same time, these hazards aren’t limited to meal kits. As part of their study, researchers also performed a review of 427 domestic home delivery food vendors and found that many offered incomplete or incorrect food safety instructions. One bison meat vendor instructed customers to touch the meat, and noted that if it’s cool to the touch, it’s safe to consume — potentially dangerous advice, Rutgers professor and study lead Bill Hallman told Food Safety News.
Another problem appears to be the reliance on parcel carriers. In addition to taking as long as a day or more to arrive at customers’ houses, carriers like FedEx, UPS and the U.S. Postal Service all waive any responsibility for perishable products, the researchers note. Similarly, the vendors say they’re not responsible for deliveries that aren’t made on time. According to the study, only 42% of companies had tools allowing customers to track their shipments online.
Grocers delivering from their stores or from dedicated warehouses have an easier time controlling the temperatures of perishable items. Michael Kanter, seafood director with FreshDirect, told Supermarket News that the only time perishables aren’t under strict temperature control is the journey from the truck to the customer’s front door. Still, even the most rigorous retailers can leave pallets sitting out or fail to properly store and display fresh meat. All the more reason to run regular tests and training programs to make sure food safety procedures are being followed down to the last detail.