Food Delivered with a Side of Safety


By Shelley Feist, Executive Director, Partnership for Food Safety Education

During the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly everyone made changes in how they purchase food and prepared meals. Concerns about in-store shopping and a scarcity of essential items gave rise to a new or increased reliance on delivery options. 

According to Nielsen IQ, online food and beverage sales — including grocery and restaurant online delivery — jumped 125% over the 52 weeks ending Nov. 30, 2020. 

New research by the Partnership for Food Safety Education (PFSE) looks at the households that are using delivery options, and whether users of food delivery report taking care to handle delivered food safely.

The PFSE survey looked at three home food delivery services:

  • Meal kits: pre-portioned food ingredients and recipes delivered to  subscribers. 
  • Grocery delivery: home delivery from local grocery stores, including through third-party delivery companies
  • Prepared food delivery: home delivery of carryout, ready-to-eat food.

Studies over time have shown that poor or inconsistent food handling practices and improper handwashing can contribute to foodborne illness at home. 

The prevention benefits of handwashing and hand sanitizer have been highlighted since the onset of the COVID 19 pandemic in the United States.  

The Partnership set out to understand more about the households that use food delivery and also how people handled home-delivered meal kits, prepared food, and groceries. A total of 657 consumers completed the self-report survey containing both multiple-choice and open-ended questions.  Demographic information was also collected.

Survey questions included:

  • What type of food delivery service have you used?
  • How often do you use food delivery service?
  • How do you handle food after delivery?
  • How do you handle perishable food items?
  • Do you wash your hands before handling food?
  • Do you sanitize your food packaging?

Results revealed:

  • 38% wash their hands 20 seconds or longer
  • 56% sanitize their food packaging
    • 44% with antibacterial or alcohol wipes
    • 6% with hand sanitizer
    • 5% with soap and water
    • 4% with bleach
    • 1% with vinegar

Respondent’s demographic data showed:

  • 51% female and 49% male
  • 57% had no children living at home
  • 18% had one or two children at home
  • 31% were over age 55
  • 45% had a household income over $60K

Findings about the households that use delivery services will help guide the development of a PFSE food delivery outreach effort later in 2021.  

This campaign will leverage the marketing channels of PFSE Partners in the food industry, and food delivery specifically.  The objectives of this effort include:  

  • To raise consumer awareness around home safe handling of delivered foods in all forms – grocery, prepared food, and meal kits.
  • To create healthy food-handling habits in millions of households using food delivery services. 
  • To elicit active involvement of health educators (BAC Fighters) and the nation’s food retailers and food industry partners in delivering campaign messages to American homes.
  • To develop measurement criteria for “activation” (dissemination) tactics

To learn more about the survey conducted in the summer of 2020 check out this upcoming presentation at the 2021 Consumer Food Safety Education Virtual Conference.


Food Safety Education for Active Food Delivery Users
Wednesday, March 10
3:40 to 4 p.m. EST

During the conference, Chinwendu Ozoh and Angela Shaw of Iowa State University will present results of a study examining the food handling practices of individuals and families using food delivery services. Conducted during the pandemic, study findings will enable educators to improve food safety intervention and messaging. The delivery services considered in the study are meal kits, grocery delivery/curbside pick-up, and prepared food delivery. The Partnership for Food Safety Education study was conducted by Iowa State University  and its subcontractor, Qualtrics XM in July to September 2020.


The 2021 Consumer Food Safety Education Virtual Conference, March 9-12, 2021, sponsored by the non-profit Partnership for Food Safety Education, is the only conference in the U.S. dedicated to consumer food safety education. For more conference information and to register, please visit