In the traditional restaurant model, there are the options of dining in, takeout or food delivery; all facilitated with a great amount of face-to-face interaction. In this model, it was clearly understood that food safety was the responsibility of the restaurant and their food delivery team. Yet, there were still issues with food safety breaches causing foodborne illness, resulting in hospitalisation or death.
With the current novel coronavirus pandemic, the food service industry had to pivot and do a deep dive into e-commerce to ensure business continuity. In Jamaica, it meant more than just pizza could be ordered through a website and third-party food delivery app on any smart device. It is critical to note that before the pandemic, the topic of who is responsible for food safety in the e-commerce space had started; however, the rate of increase has placed it fully in the spotlight.
It is clear that food delivery during the pandemic filled a critical need. The food service industry thrived while giving comfort to immunocompromised people by meeting their needs and preventing them from being in high-contact areas. It is also clear that e-commerce in food ordering and delivery at this level is here to stay. Therefore, an assessment of the risks related to this option must be conducted by food business operators and third-party delivery services. The hazard analysis must look from end to end, resulting in preventative controls. What does this mean? Although the delivery driver did not personally prepare or pack the food, it does not negate the fact that food safety responsibility lies with them as well. While restaurants may not be able to control the delivery process, they must ensure that at the point of pick-up, everything is done to ensure food is kept safe.
One way to demonstrate this is food temperature monitoring and ensuring temperature requirements are communicated to delivery services. Time stamping of food packages is good; better yet is the use of time temperature indicators. Food safety commitment is also demonstrated by tamper-proofing food packaging. An easy option is a sticker that is placed over the package; once it’s unsealed it leaves behind evidence of being opened. There are viral videos of delivery drivers eating from customer food before delivering. How do you know this has not happened to your order? One of the simplest ways is to check the “tamper evident seal”.
It is essential that food delivery drivers are trained on how to keep food safe, kept at the right temperature during delivery, protected and traceable. These people must be equipped with personal protective equipment and fully understand sanitisation.
A critical part of the continued success of e-commerce in the food industry is communication and customer awareness. Consumers need to know how to recognise safe products upon receipt of order. One of the easiest ways to keep customers informed about food safety is adding the information to the website or app of a third-party delivery service, restaurant or grocery store.
When your food is delivered, how do you know it is safe?
Food Safety and Management System Practitioner