These days, food delivery is so convenient, with our orders just a bike or car ride away. The food is transported in eye-catching bags that proudly boast the logo of the delivery company. Every type of food is being delivered; from fast food to groceries to fresh produce, all facilitated through e-commerce. However, with all that is happening with e-commerce and food, it is easy to lose track of food safety and the responsible parties.
While the delivery of food is not new, it had low applicability and was previously mostly used by pizza and grocery franchises. However, since the novel coronavirus pandemic its use and applicability have increased exponentially. Also, there is an increase in third-party delivery services to support the rise in online food shopping. Statistics from the 2021 Food & Health survey supports this; it showed 42% of Americans purchase grocery online at least once per month, which is an increase from 33% in 2020 and 27% in 2019. Based on current observations, it is fair to say this is a general trend everywhere.
But who is responsible for food safety? Is it the vendor who sells the food or the third-party delivery service? The simple, yet complex, answer is: We all are responsible for food safety. It is like a relay race, in which the baton is passed from one leg of the race to another until the end and gold is reached.
In a study to look into the integrity of home-delivered dinners, conducted by Rutgers-Tennessee State University, concerns were found regarding pathogens, cold chain integrity, packaging and labelling. This indicates that there is a gap in the food safety loop that can have a major impact if the risk is not contained. Therefore, the responsibility is shared by the food authorities, vendors, delivery services and consumers.
While the Public Health (Food Handling) Regulations might be silent on e-commerce, it speaks on food delivery, under which the third-party delivery service falls. This means it is expected that temperature control is maintained and monitored, delivery drivers have basic food handlers’ training and a food handler’s permit. The business operators are required to be registered and ensure that the food carriers are maintained in a fit state for the transportation of food. Sadly, monitoring by the authorities is not fully implemented as the speed of growth has far outpaced their current resources and capabilities.
E-commerce in the food industry is here to stay; during the pandemic, third-party food deliverers demonstrated their ability to meet the demand of the times. As the use of this method of ordering food increases, consumers are demonstrating that they trust the system to ensure that their food is delivered safe for consumption; hopefully, this trust is not misplaced.