TAIWAN – In light of the COVID-19 outbreak in Taiwan, research by World Universities Network researchers has identified the need to strengthen literacy on meal received and food registration temperature in a study that examined the food safety risk of online food delivery platforms.
Online food delivery businesses for everything from groceries to prepared meals have seen a sharp rise in demand as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, especially in the United States.
The risk to food safety posed by so much food being transported in this manner has largely gone unstudied.
During the COVID-19 outbreak in Taiwan, a group of researchers under the direction of Professor Hsiu-Ling Chen from National Cheng Kung University looked into any potential risks to food safety associated with using online food delivery services.
They carried out a cross-sectional study collecting information from 367 customers and 122 delivery staff on demographic traits, customs on the use of online meal delivery services, and food safety knowledge.
“A key finding of our study is that, overall, the food safety literacy of the consumers is very good; however, there is a need to strengthen literacy on meal received temperature and food registration temperature, especially in the 21 to 30-year age group,” says Professor Chen.
The researchers discovered that approximately 30% of the food delivery staff made 16 to 20 deliveries per day based on data from the delivery personnel.
Alcohol was used to sanitize the food delivery boxes by about half of the delivery staff.
Food delivery personnel who cleaned the boxes two to four times a day increased by 18% after the COVID-19 outbreak started.
The results showed that food delivery staff members had very high levels of general food safety literacy. However, there were lower scores on temperature knowledge of the meals.
These details were used by the researchers to create suggestions for communicating the food safety risk associated with online food delivery services.
The main recommendation was that online food delivery services include temperature control devices in their delivery boxes or provide customers with a thermometer to check the meal’s temperature.
A partition placed inside the delivery box between the hot and cold meals would help maintain the dishes’ temperatures.
The second suggestion is to enhance the effectiveness of food-leak-proof packaging, as this was one of the most frequently reported issues with online meal delivery services.
“Another way that online food delivery companies can improve food safety is by being transparent about their relevant hygiene certifications with labels. Food delivery personnel can also disclose the delivery conditions of the food,” adds Professor Chen.
Convenience a major driver of online food delivery
In Taiwan, about 56% of the population used online meal delivery services during the pandemic.
From fruits and vegetables to snacks and cooked meals, food delivery services offer a wide range of foods to consumers.
Nevertheless, combined with the increased convenience and access to food, these foods can pose a risk if they are undercooked or if proper hygiene and temperature control are not maintained throughout their preparation and delivery.
The researchers discovered that convenience was the main driver behind the use of online food delivery services. Reduced COVID-19 risk and alluring offers and discounts came in second and third, respectively.
They also discovered that hot-cooked rice or noodles, hand-shaken drinks, and hot-cooked meat were the most frequently ordered items.
Importantly, after the onset of the pandemic, the use of online food delivery platforms rose by more than 20%.
Additionally, there was an 8.5% rise in the number of people placing 4–6 weekly online food orders.