UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As the omicron variant continues to rage, many people turn to food delivery as a safer alternative to eating in a restaurant or shopping in a grocery store.
But consumers should keep a few safety tips in mind before digging into that latest DoorDash or Uber Eats delivery, according to Martin Bucknavage, senior food safety extension associate in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.
“Food ordering is really in its infancy,” he said. “The COVID-19 pandemic kicked up the level of people ordering food online, and there are a lot of different forms of ordering online. You can order from a restaurant; you can order from a store and pick it up; you can order from an online vendor who will ship it to you.”
Bucknavage urged consumers to exercise caution when ordering food online and shared advice for keeping food safety a priority:
— Make sure to purchase food from a legitimate operation. Bucknavage mentioned the rise of “dark kitchens” — professional commercial kitchens that produce food only for delivery. Unlike brick-and-mortar restaurants, dark kitchens do not have a storefront or indoor seating for customers. As demand for food delivery surged during the pandemic, dark kitchens have flourished.
A lot of these businesses are start-ups, Bucknavage explained. While food entrepreneurs may have good intentions, “they may not necessarily know all the food safety protocols,” he said.
Bucknavage encourages consumers to consider several factors before ordering: Is it an inspected operation? Is it located in a legitimate place? Are employees following the proper procedures?
For those looking to start a new food business, Bucknavage pointed out that the Penn State Extension website contains several resources on business planning, regulations and food technology for food entrepreneurs to consider.
— When ordering perishable food, be present when the order arrives to prevent the food from sitting on your front porch, and be available in case the delivery person needs to contact you for directions.
— Track your delivery. Some services allow customers to follow the delivery’s progress online. An app might show when the restaurant has accepted and prepared the order, and when the food has left the establishment. Customers then can track the progress on a map as the delivery person embarks toward the destination. Potential issues can be spotted in real time. “If the delivery is late, what happened?” Bucknavage said.
— On that note, if your food arrives after a long delay or was delivered to the wrong house, Bucknavage said he recommends reordering the food. “Once it’s out of the driver’s control, the restaurant can’t ensure the food’s safety,” he said. “The service must maintain control over that product until you receive it.”
— Thoroughly inspect the food when it arrives. Look for signs of tampering, especially if food was left on your front porch. Check the temperature to make sure it was controlled properly.
— Track mail-order products. For example, if you crave delicious ice cream from Penn State’s Berkey Creamery and would like some shipped to you, make sure to mark your calendar for the delivery day. Be ready to receive the shipment and store your sweet treat safely in the freezer.
–Chuck Gill, Penn State University