Should Food Delivery Platforms be able to recall a food item that has been ordered through their App? Are they required to have this capability? Do they?
Food Delivery Platforms do not consider themselves to be FBOs (food business operators). They may not therefore be required by law to have this capability. Should they?
That’s an interesting question! The success of food delivery does seem to rest upon the public’s perception that the food being delivered is always safe to eat.
So it would seem that they ought to be facilitating the recall of food ordered through their platforms when a recall is needed, where a product is known to be unsafe, for instance. They would also want to be able to stop a delivery order that has gone out by mistake? Do they have this capability?
When food on the market is found to be unsafe, food businesses (FBOs) are required to withdraw or recall product…’’
Food Standards Agency
Let’s look at how a recall might happen…
Food Retailers (Supermarkets, etc) respond to food incidents by withdrawing products and issuing a recall, often assisted by the public media. The FSA (Food Standards Agency) keeps us, the consumer, and the food retailers updated. They are able to withdraw and recall products because they have traceability systems which help them know which product(s) might be compromised.
“A withdrawal is the process by which unsafe food is removed from the supply chain, where the food has not reached the consumer. A recall is when unsafe food is removed from the supply chain and consumers are advised to take appropriate action, for example, to return or dispose of the unsafe food. Traceability is the ability to trace food and its’ ingredients through all stages of production”
Guidance on Food Traceability, Withdrawals and Recalls within the WRUK Food Industry, FSA
How would a restaurant manage a withdrawal and recall of a food product?
If a Restaurant becomes aware of a ‘compromised’ product or ingredient, they can withdraw all products or products using that ingredient immediately. Sometimes, it is too late, the product has already been consumed. This does happen. What they would not do or should not do, is sit quiet while the ‘compromised’ product is eaten.
“The traceability of food, …business operators shall be able to identify any person from whom they have been supplied with a food, …, a food-producing animal, or any substance intended to be, or expected to be, incorporated into a food …
To this end, such operators shall have in place systems and procedures which allow for this information to be made available to the competent authorities on demand. Food …business operators shall have in place systems and procedures to identify the other businesses to which their products have been supplied. This information shall be made available to the competent authorities on demand.
Food …which is placed on the market or is likely to be placed on the market in the Community shall be adequately labelled or identified to facilitate its traceability, through relevant documentation or information in accordance with the relevant requirements of more specific provisions.”
EU Law – Legal requirements: Article 18 of Regulation (EC) No. 178/200
But what about food delivery, where the meal has already gone out the door? It seems that the Delivery Platforms will know where the meal is being delivered to? They should be able to stop the delivery and get the product back?
Imagine, the restaurant manager knows that he/she has a meal on delivery that should really not have gone out the door. Perhaps it contains an allergen they know will harm the consumer. They would like it recalled, quickly. Can they achieve this?
Well, there’s the rub. With food delivery platforms managing the customer order, restaurants do not have access to name, address, telephone, etc. They’ve lost the direct relation they used to have with their customers and when recalls are required, they do seem to be challenged.
We tested the capability of twenty restaurants in central London to recall a product that had incorrectly gone out for delivery. In all but one instance, the restaurants surveyed appeared either unprepared to recall the product (were not aware of the procedure to do so) or simply did not understand what was required. Many responded by simply stating that this was not possible. In one case, we were told by staff that “if we have sent out the wrong order…we can get it back by asking another driver to call them and collect it.” When queried about what happens to the mistaken order, we were told that it “didn’t matter”, they waste it.
So, let’s take a closer look. Do Delivery Platforms have the capability to facilitate a recall. In fact, they do, although the effectiveness of the procedures is questionable.
What steps does restaurant need follow to recall a food item? Currently, on most major delivery platforms, in order to recall an order, the restaurant needs to call the delivery company and provide them with the original order code. The order code will allow the delivery platform to contact both the driver and the person who has ordered the meal. It will also allow the restaurant to speak directly with the person who has placed the order, albeit through the communication systems of the delivery platform itself.
Although Food Delivery Platforms can help facilitate the recall of a product, the process does seem quite convoluted.
What happens to the food item that is recalled?
Where a food producer, for instance, has recalled a product from a food retailer, the product will be returned to the producer and sent for testing and analysis.
Food Delivery Platforms do not seem to return products to the restaurants from which they were collected . If there is a mistake in the delivery, it is generally wasted.
“Each segment of the supply chain must be able to trace all the foods received by them and supplied by them (one step back and one step forward). This will include being able to trace, as required, the ingredients used to produce finished products.
In relation to food law, food retailers, including caterers, are not required to keep traceability information relating to sales to the final consumer (since consumers are not food businesses). Where a retailer knows that it is supplying directly to another food business, e.g. a catering outlet, traceability requirements must be adhered to.
Business actions necessary to comply with the law will depend on the individual business activities, and what is achievable for the business, but effective traceability allows for effective and efficient corrective actions to be taken should a food safety incident occur. It enables FBOs to target any withdrawals and/or recalls, to give information to enforcement authorities and can help minimise the level of disruption and scale of the withdrawal/recall to the business.”
Guidance on Food Traceability, withdrawals and recalls within the WRUK Food Industry, Food Standards Agency
As mentioned above, Food Delivery Platforms do not consider themselves to be FBOs, which means that the requirement for traceability of food product, does not apply. But is this correct?
When one commercial food company is delivering to another, the information about the food item normally travels with the product in the form a receipt/label (now often digital). The information about the product is ready to hand and can be checked at any time. A commercial agent will know where the food product came from, when it was made, what it is packaged in, what its shelf life is and under what conditions it should be stored. They will also have full access to ingredient and nutritional data.
Why does the same not hold for Restaurants using Delivery Platforms? If Food Delivery Platforms are Commercial Companies and Restaurants are Commercial Companies and they are passing food product between them, does not food traceability law apply? If not, why not? Perhaps it is time to acknowledge the depth of change that food delivery platforms have brought to our food systems and introduce regulation to protect the public?
With Food Delivery Platforms having greater reach into our food lives, the question about their ‘status’ as logistics companies or as food businesses is a very important one. It determines whether or not they are required to be able to recall a product that has been compromised. It would seem that they should. After all, knowing that a product should not be delivered and having the systems in place to stop it from being delivered, but failing to do is…..?
Let’s begin the work of changing our food delivery systems:
- Where the shelf-life of the product is not known. let’s know it!
- Where the temperature of the food item (the temperature the food was cooked to and held at) is not known, let’s know it!
- Where the food product travels without a label – no ingredient list, no allergens list, let’s get a label system in place!
- Where the food product travels in packaging that may not be suitable for transport or/and not for transporting that particular item, let’s get the right packaging in place!
- Where the food item – package – is not sealed, Let’s seal it!
- Where the food product travels without guidance notes or instruction – such as, ‘do not reheat’ – where the item has already been reheated once – it does matter – you cannot store and reheat again without risk – Let’s have clear instructions to consumers!
- Where the food item is not transported at temp and not held at the right temp before collection – this matters when you don’t know shelf life – which, with current systems, is always the case, Lets get it transported correctly!
Let’s start the journey toward safe and sustainable food systems!