Meal kits and food safety

I like shopping for groceries. A couple of times a week I take my youngest kid (who also likes to shop) to a variety of stores and pick up a bunch of ingredients for the next few meals. Not everyone is into pushing a cart around and fighting the masses over the best avocado enter the meal kit market. After discussing online meal kit companies on Food Safety Talk with Schaffner a couple of weeks ago, Don shot me a free week invite.

Our first Blue Apron shipment arrived Friday afternoon. I missed out on the temperature check when it arrived, Dani just said it was ‘cold.’

Don was on WRVO pubic radio talking about some of the food safety concerns with meal kits – stuff like transport temperatures, stuff delivered to the wrong address or boxes opening up.

So the meal kit companies need to consider a lot of factors, Schaffner says, in order to ensure the food being shipped remains fresh:

The perishability of the food itself
The kind of box and packing materials they ship it in
The kind of cooling device – dry ice, gel packs or regular ice
The nature of the delivery service
Clearly labeling the outside of the package that its perishable
Schaffner says it’s the food company’s responsibility to make sure its product is shipped in a way that ensures it is safe to eat upon arrival. Common shipping carriers — like UPS, FedEx or the U.S. Postal Service – don’t take responsibility for handling perishable food.

So is it safe to eat food that’s traveled via a non-refrigerated shipping truck? Schaffner says, like many other issues regarding food safety, “it’s complicated, and it depends.” Because there are so many variables, there’s really no definitive answer.

After our meal kit stuff arrived most of it ended up in our fridge for a couple of days. Yesterday I made a tasty and fairly easy cheese, pepper and olive grilled sandwich and a salad. Tonight’s challenge was a bit more involved.  Warm potato salad, marinated cucumbers and chicken cutlets – and that’s where it all fell apart for me.

The food safety instructions sucked. 

The raw chicken package had the USDA safe handling instructions to cook thoroughly. Damn. No other info, like what temperature thoroughly might be (right, exactly as shown).

I went to the step-by-step meal instructions, figuring I might see a temperature. Nope. Just cook until golden brown. And cooked through (below, exactly as shown). Damn. Nothing about cross-contamination either. A missed opportunity, but not surprising. Katrina Levine, Ashley Chaifetz and I wrote about how shitty cookbook instructions are when it comes to food safety. And we weren’t the first.

There’s lots of anecdotal conversations about how folks don’t know how to cook. Millennials and otherwise. Meal kits might make cooking easier – but won’t help with food safety.

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About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is an associate professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.