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Posted by: OFT Food Safety & Injury Lawyers

Ghost kitchens, also known as ‘dark kitchens’ or ‘virtual kitchens,’ have become widespread in recent years, steadily increasing in demand since the Covid-19 pandemic. While these food hubs don’t refer to restaurants run by ghostly chefs, the consequences of a poorly run ghost kitchen could be haunting, and their methods may seem paranormal.

Here’s more on ghost kitchens and how they increase the risk of deadly food poisoning outbreaks.

What is a Ghost Kitchen?

A Ghost kitchen is a single location—often a warehouse—that offers delivery-only food services for the several restaurants they partner with. Ghost kitchens prepare food for various restaurants within the same space, using the same equipment and staff members. Once food orders are complete, delivery drivers from DoorDash, GrubHub, or another online food delivery service take the order to the customer.

Demand was high for ghost kitchens at the start of the pandemic. They allowed restaurants to continue serving customers online and stay in business. After they had the green light to reopen, many restaurants continued to fulfill take-out orders in ghost kitchens in combination with their in-house services. Others refrained from opening brick-and-mortar storefronts altogether and dedicated their business solely to online orders.

What is the Problem with Ghost Kitchens?

Although ghost kitchens kept restaurants afloat during the pandemic, they have caused great concern regarding the food’s safety. Many restaurant owners are unaware of how ghost kitchen staff prepare their food and lack the oversight needed to maintain quality standards.

In addition to this concern, ghost kitchens create the following problems:

They Increase the Risk of Cross-Contamination

Food for multiple restaurants is made in a ghost kitchen with the same staff, equipment, workspace, and ingredients. This commingling of resources increases the risk of foodborne illness and makes it even more important to maintain a clean work area.

Without the ability to manage food production in a ghost kitchen, restaurants must simply trust that staff members are preparing and storing food properly. For this reason, staff members must be trained in food safety basics and actively communicate with their restaurant partners if they have any issues.

They Depend on Delivery Drivers to Safely Transport Food

The rise in demand for ghost kitchens matched the need for drivers willing to deliver food to customers. There are 2 million quarterly active drivers delivering orders for DoorDash alone from more than 450,000 merchants. Although this is often an individual’s side gig, they must ensure food is safely delivered to customers to prevent food poisoning.

That means keeping hot food hot and cold food cold. All drivers should carry an insulated bag that keeps food at the right temperature until delivery. Further, drivers must clean out their delivery bags to prevent cross-contamination.

Customers Don’t Know Where They’re Ordering From

One of the significant concerns with ghost kitchens is that customers don’t know where they are getting their food from. A customer might think their DoorDash order is being prepared at the traditional restaurant location when it’s being prepared at a ghost kitchen. This creates a lot of confusion surrounding the source of the food.

If a problem occurs with your food, it could be challenging to determine whether it was prepared at a traditional restaurant or in a ghost kitchen. Additionally, the food safety standards at the conventional restaurant might be higher than those at the ghost kitchen, which could increase your risk for foodborne illness. Customers have a right to know where their food is being prepared so they understand the risks involved.

Who’s Liable for Food Poisoning in a Ghost Kitchen?

Multiple parties could be at fault for a food poisoning outbreak, including the following:

Ghost Kitchen Staff

Like any food poisoning case, outbreaks often occur when staff members have poor hygiene, cross-contaminate food products, or otherwise compromise food safety. Since staff members are responsible for ensuring food is prepared properly, they could be liable if an outbreak occurs.

Third-Party Ghost Kitchen Owners

Third-party ghost kitchen owners that lease the property to restaurant brands must ensure that the facility abides by local health and safety requirements. If third-party owners commit any health violations and contaminate food, they could be liable for an outbreak.

Food Delivery Drivers

Since ghost kitchens rely heavily on delivery services like DoorDash and Uber Eats, drivers could also be liable if food becomes contaminated en route to the customer. Suppose a driver delivers several orders at once. If they don’t store hot food in an insulated bag, it could cool down and enter the danger zone (40°F -140°F). If food sits in the danger zone long enough, bacteria could rapidly produce and put the customer at risk of developing a foodborne illness.

Did You Get Sick from a Ghost Kitchen? Call Us Today

Although ghost kitchens are convenient for customers and restaurants, they must uphold food safety standards to prevent food poisoning outbreaks. If food is cross-contaminated, improperly stored, or mishandled, and you get sick, you could be eligible for compensation.

The food safety and injury lawyers at OFT know how to trace outbreaks back to their source and hold all at-fault parties accountable for their actions. Contact our Minneapolis law office today at (888) 828-7087 to schedule your free consultation.

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