New food delivery models subject of FDA virtual summit scheduled for October

Not so long ago, there was a time when going to grocery stores or restaurants was about the only way you could get food. Oh, big cities offered deliveries of pizza and Chinese food. But that was about it.

Then came the pandemic, and everything changed. And some of those changes are looking like they’ll stick. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has decided to schedule a three-day virtual meeting about that change with the food industry, consumers and regulators.

The FDA has scheduled the meeting for Oct. 19-21 to address food safety risks “as consumers order more meals and groceries online.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for the FDA to help ensure that foods ordered online and delivered directly to consumers are safe to eat and not at risk of contamination,” said Frank Yiannas, FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response.

Hello Fresh, Factor, Home Chef, Blue Apron, Sun Basket, Every Plate, Fresh Easy, Every Plate, Freshly, and Diet-to-go are among the online order takers who then deliver food to customers’ homes. These companies fulfilled the pandemic demands of consumers with 18 to 20 recipe choices each week, fresh ingredients, with presentation time usually about 30 minutes.

They pack the meals for home delivery in cardboard boxes with fresh meat and other items — sometimes including fresh produce intended to be eaten raw —  refrigerated with blocks of dry ice or cold packs. They rely on the efficiency of home delivery services. Along with grocery stores offering pickup services at the curbside and restaurants using DoorDash. Uber and other delivery services, home meal deliveries change how people eat.

In the New Era of Smarter Food blueprint, the FDA promised that the agency would hold a summit to address the potential safety vulnerabilities of these foods, especially during the critical “last mile” of delivery.

“That’s exactly what we are doing,” Yiannas said.

The deputy commissioner says the October summit is “a critical first step in a broader effort to address the safety of foods as new business models emerge.”

Yiannas say the change was occurring more slowly, but “during the pandemic, the number of Americans ordering food for delivery has skyrocketed.”

“As the food system continues to change rapidly, including how foods are produced and delivered, meetings like this will help the FDA keep pace with that change and fulfill our mission to protect the public health, ” Yiannas added.

The FDA plans to use what it learns during the public meeting and comments submitted to the Federal Register to help determine what actions, if any, could be needed to keep consumers safe.

The summit is an opportunity for the FDA to further its collaboration on food safety with federal, state, local and tribal regulatory authorities and a broad array of stakeholders, including industry, consumers, public health organizations, and academia. 

Topics for discussion during the summit are scheduled to include:

  • Types of Business to Consumer (B2C) e-commerce models including produce and meal kit subscription services, ghost kitchens, dark stores;
  • Safety risks associated with foods sold through B2C e-commerce;
  • Standards of care used by industry to control these safety risks;
  • Types of delivery models such as third-party delivery and autonomous delivery models;
  • Regulatory approaches to food sold through B2C e-commerce, including challenges and gaps that need attention; and
  • Labeling of foods sold through B2C e-commerce

View the Federal Register Notice announcing the meeting

Dates & Times 

Date: Oct. 19-21, 2021 

Time: 11:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. Eastern time

Registration
There is no cost to attend the summit, but registration is required. Registered participants will receive details on how and when to view the summit online.

Register Here

Public Comment Session
During the three-day virtual event, there will be opportunities for public comment each day. Participants who wish to speak during the public comment sessions must register as indicated in the Federal Register Notice by Oct. 8, 2021. In addition, FDA will open a public docket to receive additional comments about these topics. Public comments can be submitted electronically to www.regulations.gov using Docket ID: FDA-2021-N-0929 now through Nov. 20, 2021.

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