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Food Delivery Is Target of New Guidance

In a previous article, we noted the focus that federal regulators had begun placing on the retail food industry, and the latest Guidance Document for Direct-to-Consumer and Third-Party Delivery Service Food Delivery proves that once again. The guidance released by FDA, USDA, and CDC was a collaboration with the Conference of Food Protection (CFP) and includes food safety recommendations focused on key parameters that companies should consider when delivering food to consumers.

As consumers increasingly order food from online retailers, including produce and meal-kit subscriptions, ghost kitchens, and third-party delivery services, the purpose of the guidance is to offer best practices that identify mitigating measures to potential food safety vulnerabilities. These include preventive controls, mechanisms to assess risk, recommendations for proper packaging, temperature control, physical and chemical contamination control, and allergen control.

First addressing the federal, state, and local regulatory requirements that are in place for the transportation and delivery of food, and providing a risk management overview, the guidance then provides recommendations and best practices specific to direct-to-consumer and third-party delivery that further those foundational concepts.

Direct to Consumer (DTC). Even before considering delivering practices, the DTC business should implement procedures to ensure that food is produced under safe and sanitary conditions and address the food safety risks relevant to its operations – including having systems in place to help ensure consumer names and delivery addresses are accurate, as delivery delays can impact food safety. Along with best practice examples, the guidance focuses on DTC consideration to be made for:

  • Temperature Control. The company should identify required time and temperature parameters for transportation and delivery relevant to each food type, validate and implement controls, and verify that the controls work effectively.
  • Packaging. The guidance focuses in on the outer (i.e., tertiary) packaging, refrigerants/coolants, and dunnage. Specifically noting that while an outer packaging can function as an insulator, the company should ensure that it is able to maintain its integrity during transit to protect the contents from damage. Where needed additional coolants can also be used, and dunnage (extra packing materials to fill voids and secure and protect the contents) can be useful or even necessary.
  • Preventing Contamination. A key aspect of food safety, whether of biological, physical, or chemical risk, prevention includes ensuring individual packaging of items so cross-contamination does not occur during transport. Additionally, the materials for wrapping and packaging should not be a source of contamination themselves.
  • Food Safety Training. Training and supervision for all personnel handling food is critical and should include both an overview of food safety principles and specific instructions; training should be regularly reassessed.
  • Consumer Communication. Products should be labeled according to applicable regulatory requirements, ensuring that no delivery or other labeling covers these. Consumers should also be advised of when to expect their orders and what to do upon delivery and receive updated information as applicable.
  • Other. DTC businesses also should consider carrier risks, realizing that their package won’t receive any “special treatment” unless it is part of their agreement with the carrier; consider requiring a signature release; and provisions for any non-delivering reasons.

Third-Party Delivery (TPD). Similar to DTC recommendations, the TPD guidance notes the importance of ensuring that all parties understand the relevant food safety risks and define roles for such parties to help minimize those risks, with roles and responsibilities clearly defined. Additional key areas of consideration include:

  • Preventing Contamination (including time/temperature control). Again, guidance is similar to that of DTC, with the caveat that TPD has an added challenge that various food and non-perishable food products may be delivered together. In addition to providing separation best practices, it notes that DTCs should have processes to determine whether food deliverers may prepare beverages, collect accompanying utensils, napkins, straws, or condiments, or package foods. Because a variety of vehicles are used to deliver DTC foods, delivery procedures may include the use of insulated bags, containers, or coolants to keep foods hot or cold; and delivery persons should be provided with guidelines for food safety. The section also includes recommendations for packaging, delivery bag and vehicle cleanliness, and tampering prevention.
  • Food Safety Education and Training. TPDs should make available or provide relevant food safety education or training to food deliverers and food shoppers to ensure appropriate knowledge of basic food safety principles, with contamination prevention, temperature control, and personal health and hygiene as key training aspects.
  • Management of Non-Compliance. All TPDs should have processes to address consumer feedback and issues of non-compliance, such as consumer reports of food safety concerns (e.g., incorrect food temperatures, allergens, foodborne illness, product adulteration, etc.); food quality concerns (e.g., broken, damaged, spoiled, etc.); wrong products (e.g. reported allergens); delivery concerns (e.g., food not delivered within specified timeframe); and general feedback on the food order(s) or delivery service. Reports and issues should be monitored and regularly assessed.
  • Other. Guidance is also provided for control of food allergens, traceability and recalls, and the use of technology for monitoring and notification of delays.

While the current focus is on guidance for direct sale to consumers and third-party delivery programs, it is likely only a matter of time before the guidance becomes a regulatory requirement. These business channels certainly put manufactures, who have no control over these systems, at risk. So likely there will be pressure on multiple fronts to tighten up the food safety requirements for these avenues of commerce. But in the meantime, it would be wise for these operations to review the guidance and do their upmost to adhere to them.


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