Il food delivery for many Italians it is a well-established habit, which saves time and, sometimes, even money. According to data presented in 2023 by The European House-Ambrosetti, the service now reaches 71% of the Italian population. Among the all-time favorite dishes, according to reports from the main food delivery platforms, there are pizza, burgers and le oriental cuisinesbut in constant growth in home orders there are healthy proposals, such as poké and salads. Therefore, you don’t just order comfort and junk foodbut also dishes that meet the needs of a healthy diet.
Yet we often wonder whether home food deliveries are always reliable from the point of view of food safetyor if conditions thwart the choice of a healthy meal. In rider baskets, even if they appear clean, colonies of bacteria can nest.
And in many cases take-away food can be exposed to contamination, both due to external agents (such as smog and dust present in the air), and due to the poor maintenance of hot or cold temperatures depending on the dish.
The cold chain is not always respected
The Altroconsumo magazine investigated the current situation in collaboration with the Experimental Zooprophylactic Institute of Piedmont, Liguria and Valle d’Aosta, placing 60 online orders through six different national and local platforms operating in Milan and Turin.
First noted that often the food or drinks arrive too cold or too hot, and this affects their goodness and potentially also the health of the consumer. From the investigation, only a third of the hot dishes arrived at their destination at a temperature above 60 degrees, as required by current legislation, while the cold dishes had an average delivery temperature of 23.5 degrees, therefore far from fresh.
In fact, to respect the cold chain, food should be transported on vehicles equipped with containers with ATP (Accord Transport Perissable) certification on the market, but due to their size they can only be transported by motorbikes or trucks, not by scooters or bicycles. Here a contrast arises between sustainability and safety: on the one hand, companies underline that they are green thanks to the use of bikes, on the other, these are not suitable for supporting the tools suitable for respecting safety protocols such as the cold chain. As for microbiological safety, there are no problems that could cause intoxication. However, experts have identified various negative indicators regarding the hygiene and freshness of food.
Food delivery: the three factors that facilitate the multiplication of bacteria
«In food delivery, the first consideration to make is linked to microbiological safety», he explains Daniela Manila Bianchi, head of the Allergen and Nutrition Laboratory of the Experimental Zooprophylactic Institute of Piedmont, Liguria and Valle d’Aosta. «If the transport of a food does not take place correctly, the co-presence of the three factors that facilitate microbial multiplication occurs: time, temperature and substrate».
Substrate. The food ordered online is very suitable for the proliferation of microorganisms because it contains water, sugars and proteins ideal for the metabolism of pathogenic bacteria, for their multiplication and for the production of toxins.
Temperature. Each microorganism is characterized by an optimal growth environment: some require a minimum temperature of 30-37 degrees; others are satisfied with milder climates, around 20-25 degrees; still others tolerate ten fewer without problems.
Tempo. The bacteria are able to double their concentration within a quarter of an hour, depending on the substrate and the temperature in which they are found.
Food delivery and bacteria: it is important that the departing food meets high safety standards. During transport, no additional contamination must occur (such as the operator’s hands or the boxes used for delivery). Transport temperatures must be respected. Delivery times should not be too long.
Food delivery: there can be over 200 colonies of bacteria in a rider’s bag
He led on the risk of contamination of food delivered with food delivery an investigation last summer Gambero Rosso. The newspaper entrusted the SiLa Laboratory, specialized in food microbiological analysis, with the analysis of the boxes used by riders for deliveries. And the results left no doubt about the seriousness of the issue: in a single bag of a rider, the analysts’ swabs found over 200 colonies of bacteria on the bottom and wallswith a high risk of food contamination.
That the food comes into contact with the box is a possible eventuality. In fact, the food prepared by the restaurant is not always packaged in airtight packaging. Pizza boxes, for example, are deposited at the bottom of the bag and are not always well sealed. For sustainability reasons, cardboard containers are often used, but they are also more subject to contamination because they are less airtight.
Furthermore there is a lack of controls by the competent authorities and there is a lack of staff training on food hygiene and safety rules. The responsibility falls on the individual rider, who must worry about carefully cleaning his bag, an operation that requires time and precision.
Often the list of ingredients is not present
And then there is the information required by law to be provided when selling food online. From the point of view of consumer safety, the most important ones to consult are the ingredients. European legislation obliges the seller to report on the sites the same information present on the labels of products sold in supermarkets and shops. For example, on online sales sites it is necessary to report the presence of allergens and nutritional declarations, in order to inform about the characteristics of the product.
From Altroconsumo’s investigation, it emerged that when ordering online it is difficult to identify the presence of allergens. In 25% of the menus there is no list of ingredients used for the recipes. In 85% the ingredients cannot be deselected. Very few restaurants highlight allergens as required by law.
«Ingredients such as milk, eggs, soy, gluten or other foods that can cause allergies or intolerances should be highlighted», comments Bianchi. «In any case, it is a good idea for a consumer to declare his allergy in the notes space when ordering, now present in almost all platforms, so that operators pay particular attention in the preparation and handling phases, avoiding cross-contamination».
Food delivery and bacteria: who needs to monitor?
In the catering sector, those responsible for food safety are the so-called Osa (Food business operators). These must verify compliance with the rules in all phases of food preparation. In the case of food delivery platforms, however, who has the obligation to supervise the distribution of food?
First of all, we must distinguish home deliveries organized personally by a restaurant from those managed by large delivery platforms:
In the first case i delivery boys, such as premises employees, are under his responsibility. It is therefore the OSA’s task to ensure that the rules are respected. If instead the restaurant relies on one delivery platform, it is the latter that has to provide the riders with the necessary equipment. And to ensure that their work is carried out in compliance with food hygiene regulations.
Without prejudice to the responsibility of the Osa, safety control up to the consumer is the responsibility of the Food Hygiene and Nutrition Services. But also to the veterinary services of the ASL prevention departments.
Three tips to avoid risks
If the restaurant or the delivery person does not respect all these precautions, consumers may pay the consequences. They are left with a dilemma: give up ordering food at home or trust? The expert from the Zooprophylactic Institute concludes with three pieces of advice.
“The first, choose a restaurant nearby to the place of delivery, be it the home or the office, to shorten transport times. Second, avoid ordering dishes that must be delivered refrigerated together with hot dishes, to facilitate maintaining the correct transport temperature. Third, agree on the delivery time and consume food without further waiting. If this is not possible, fresh foods must be placed in the refrigerator or those transported hot must be kept above 65 degrees”.