Thursday, May 11, 2017

Home Delivered Meat - Buyer Beware

A recent study conducted by RU and TSU looks at issues involving meat shipped to homes via home delivery systems such as meal kits.   These issues include:
  • A wide range of temperatures upon receipt, ranging from (-)23F to 75F.  Much of the issue was related to the type of coolant (dry ice best, gel packs worst) and the amount of insulating packaging material surrounding the product.
  • Most home delivery companies did not require receipt upon delivery, which means that product can sit on the front porch until the home owner realizes it is there.  This can be an issue when the product is shipped as a surprise gift, so the recipient is not expecting it.
  • Home delivery companies did not have food safety information on their website
  • Products were not properly labeled to indicate the type of meat.
  • Microbial loads varied greatly. Pathogen loads varied greatly.
The authors stated that the bigger, better known companies did a better job, but with many companies entering the business channel, there may be more concern.

In the end, buyer beware.

Study of meat from home delivery services shows disturbing results
By Rita Jane Gabbett on 5/11/2017

ROSEMONT, Ill. — Researchers at Rutgers University and Tennessee State University who ordered and tested hundreds of meat, poultry, game and seafood items from home delivery systems such as meal kits found disturbing results relative to cold-chain integrity, packaging, labeling and pathogen loads on some of these food items.

Bill Hallman, professor at Rutgers Department of Human Ecology, presented the results at the Food Safety Summit here.

In addition to interviewing 1,002 consumers and examining food safety information on 427 domestic food delivery vendor websites, the researchers ordered and received 169 meal kit shipments that included 271 meat items, 39 poultry items, 133 game items and 235 seafood items.

Of consumers interviewed, 95 percent believed these products to be safe. However, many of these food items arrived as unexpected gifts, increasing the likelihood the products might sit outside for eight hours or more before being opened and refrigerated. Only 5 percent of the deliveries the researchers received specifically require a signature upon delivery.

Hallman said while delivery services such as Fedex, UPS and the U.S. Postal Service specifically disclaim responsibility for the integrity of perishable products, the vendors shipping through them also often disclaim responsibility if their products are delivered on the day they were promised.

Further, he said only 42 percent of vendors surveyed provide any food safety information on their websites and, when they did, it was hard to find and often inaccurate.

By way of example, Hallman shared one vendor’s instruction, which stated, “Your bison meat may be thawed by the time it gets to you. Touch the meat and if it is cool to the touch your order is in good condition.”

“'Cool to the touch' is not a food safety standard,” Hallman said.

He said surface temperatures on products the researchers received ranged from minus 23 degrees (from dry ice packaging) to 75 degrees, often when gel packs were used as the coolant. He also noted surface temperatures varied significantly among products in the same shipment and even on different locations on the same product. Nearly 47 percent of the 684 items researchers ordered arrived with surface temperatures above 40 degrees, rendering them unsafe to consume.

Part of the problem, he noted, was a lack of proper dunnage (packing materials to keep product in place next to the coolant).

Labeling was also an issue, with ground beef, lamb and pork in the same shipment arriving unlabeled, Hallman noted.

The researchers also tested the meat, poultry and seafood products they received in laboratories. He said pathogen microbial loads varied widely and that the relationship between pathogen load and product temperature was not always linear.

For those products that arrived with a surface temperature of 60 degrees to 70 degrees, however, “the microbial loads were off the charts,” Hallman said.

In response to a question, Hallman said, in general, the food products coming from larger organizations tended to arrive in better shape and having done a better job of following food safety procedures.

Hallman is concerned by the ease of entry into food home delivery business. He suggested these online vendors should have to be registered with regulators with ID numbers and should have to include sensors in packaging to alert consumers to unsafe temperatures.

Glenda Lewis, FDA’s director, retail food protection staff, told attendees the agency is still studying the sector and has not offered guidance or made policy decisions on food home delivery.

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