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Food Safety Focus (195th Issue, October 2022) – Article 2

Food Safety on Takeaways and Meal Delivery

Reported by Ms. Amy CHENG, Research Officer,
Risk Assessment Section, Centre for Food Safety

Meal delivery service has grown in unprecedented ways over the past few years, and customers have embraced the new alternatives of ordering food door-to-door through third-party online delivery platforms. Of note, takeaways and meal delivery are potentially at danger of extended exposure to the Temperature Danger Zone between 4°C and 60°C, which permits the fast growth of disease-causing microorganisms in food. It is easy to see why customers want to enjoy their food as if they were in a restaurant, without having to worry about food safety or if the food has been tampered with. Food businesses should ensure that the food they prepare for customers is delivered safe and uncontaminated.

Common Food Safety Risks Related to Food Delivery

Most restaurants have an exceedingly higher demand for meal boxes during peak hours. They may prepare food too early before it is picked up by deliverers for the sake of convenience, leaving it at room temperature for some time. This can be exacerbated by poor time and temperature control during delivery. Cross-contamination is also possible if the deliverers fail to keep personal hygiene and delivery vehicles clean. Tampering activities, have been reported on occasion.

Hot Food Arrives Hot and Cold Food Arrives Cold

All ready-to-eat food must be delivered to consumers in a manner that prevents it from becoming unsafe or unfit to eat. Because most disease-causing bacteria multiply rapidly in the Temperature Danger Zone, it is critical to keep hot food above 60°C and cold food at or below 4°C from preparation to delivery. Food that needs to be refrigerated must be kept cool while awaiting to be picked up and in transport, for example, in an insulated bag with cooling gel pack. Food that has to be kept hot should also be packed in an insulated bag (Figure 1). However, if food is delivered without temperature control, time control is the only way to assure food safety. Always follow the two-hour/four-hour principle when dealing with meal delivery (Figure 1). Third-party delivery agents can use technology, such as apps to provide the optimal delivery route for food deliverers, to keep delivery times as short as possible.

Figure 1. Keep food at safe temperature and the “2-hour/4-hour principle”

Keep Meals Untampered

When offering takeaway and meal delivery services, proper food packaging is an important issue to mitigate tampering problems. Food should be stored in clean, sealed and sturdy containers to protect it from harmful bacteria, prevent objects from falling into it and avoid contamination. Anti-tamper packing design is also a food safety measure. Non-resealable packaging such as tear strips or tamper-evident seals (Figure 2) can deter tampering activities and secure food safety and integrity during delivery. Food deliverers should not open, alter, tamper with or change the food and its packaging. They must ensure proper packaging and positioning of the meal boxes to avoid spillage, crushing of food, or damage to food containers, as well as protect food from cross-contamination by separating ready-to-eat food from raw food and non-food items throughout delivery.

Figure 2. Non-resealable packaging such as tear strip or tamper-evident seals can deter tampering activities and secure food safety and integrity

Advice to Consumers