Delivery’s potential time bomb

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In the movie version of the third-party delivery boom (working title: “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”), we’ve reached the taut moment where a time bomb is ticking louder than Big Ben as the restaurant world obliviously stuffs another outgoing hot bag. In the cinematic world, a hero would push forward at that point to snip the red wire (or is the yellow?) and defuse the bomb, saving restaurant-kind as we know it.

Too bad the industry can actually do little more than shove fingers in its ears and wonder when the surge in off-premise sales will end in a fireball, done in by waning public confidence in the safety of what’s delivered. All it will take are a few high-profile lapses in food handling processes—the poke bowl sitting in the sun inside a hot car on a steamy summer day, or the YouTube clip of a delivery driver’s dog standing on the backseat next to an order, its head buried in the bag. Even worse: The driver paws a fry out of the bag to give the pooch a treat.

We know that working in a restaurant and driving for a delivery service are often the two halves today of a young person’s way of earning rent and food money. It’s not a leap to imagine the dual-job holder getting pissed off by his restaurant employer and exacting revenge by messing with delivery orders from the operation. Or vice-versa—the individual feels he was burned by a third party that employed him as a driver, so he exploits his restaurant perch to make sure every outgoing order handled by that service includes at least one ServSafe no-no.

And what’s the restaurant’s defense? A peel-off sticker that keeps the bag closed, as if Houdini himself couldn’t crack that precaution, or a staple to keep the sack closed, a direct violation of the old maxim that you never use one around food because it could end up in the dish?

Paranoia is not our aim here, but precaution is. Third-party delivery is now an established pathway for selling food to consumers. Contrast the safeguards required in that channel with the measures restaurants are obliged to follow to keep customers safe. Drivers are almost by definition food handlers. Sure, there’s no hand-to-food contact. But that doesn’t mean all danger is averted. 

So why aren’t they required to learn the fundamentals of keeping an off-premise meal safe? Certainly there’s room to fall short.  Why shouldn’t there be mandated training, a ServSafe Lite of sorts?

We hear that some state or local restaurant groups are pushing legislators to do exactly that. Their constituents’ gain isn’t financial. The payback is more comfort in entrusting their food—literally their stock in trade—to strangers over whom they have no control, or even the influence that comes with training a new hire. With safeguards in place, restaurants would have greater confidence that the food going into customers’ doors is as safe as the meals served in their dining rooms.

It’s the moral thing to do. And it’ll help to ensure the biggest boom to the industry since the advent of the drive-thru doesn’t end in the pyrotechnics of a Bruce Willis movie.  

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