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Another HelloFresh Outbreak

Posted in Our Blog on March 15, 2024

HelloFresh is linked to yet another outbreak.  This one has been linked to at least 7 illnesses, six of which required hospitalization.  This meal delivery company is no stranger to recalls, as they have been cited in recalls dating back to 2019.

Advisory Initiated Following Link to Ground Beef from HelloFresh

After foodborne illness investigation linked the genetic data of samples from seven people infected with Escherichia coli strain O157:H7, traceback investigations were initiated.  Almost all of those interviewed (6 out of 7 patients) indicated that they had consumed ground beef from their HelloFresh meal kits prior to becoming ill.

This number could be much larger than those currently linked, as most cases of foodborne illness go unreported due to a variety of reasons.  In most cases, individuals recover without medical intervention, while others are not linked to the FoodNet database.


The scale of HelloFresh deliveries and span of sick individuals across the United States is an indication that there are more cases not yet linked to this outbreak.


Patients were spread across the map in several states, including: Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington.  They fell ill between June 8, 2022 and August 17, 2022.


These illnesses were linked to HelloFresh boxes that were shipped between July 2, 2022 and July 21, 2022.


Advisory Statement Issued

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued a Health Alert about this product.  While the product is not longer being distributed, some consumers may still have potentially contaminated product in their home.  HelloFresh customers who froze meat from HelloFresh boxes that were shipped between July 2, 2022 and July 21, 2022 are advised not to consume the ground beef.


This product can be identified as packaged in a 10 ounce plastic vacuum-packed package containing “Ground Beef 85% Lean/15% Fat with the codes “EST#46841 L1 22 155” or “EST#46841 L5 22 155” on the side of the packaging.  The product bears the establishment number EST.46481 inside the USDA mark of inspection on the plastic ground beef package.


Additional notes in the advisory include safely preparing raw meat products (both fresh and frozen) and only consuming ground beef that has been cooked to a temperature of 160 °F to ensure it is cooked to a temperature high enough to kill harmful bacteria using a food thermometer measuring internal temperature at the thickest part of the meat.


Symptoms of E. coli Infection

Symptoms of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), like the outbreak strain E. coli O157:H7, may vary from person to person, though most will experience severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting.  Fevers are often mild (less than 101 °F).


Illness onset usually occurs 3 to 4 days after eating or drinking something containing the offending bacteria, though it can occur anywhere from 1 to 10 days after exposure.  Most people recover within 5 to 7 days without medical intervention, but some may experience severe or even life-threatening illness.


Those experiencing diarrhea lasting for more than 3 days or diarrhea accompanied by a fever higher than 102 °F, bloody diarrhea, and dehydration should contact their healthcare provider.  You may be experiencing dehydration if you are vomiting so much that you cannot keep liquids down and pass very little urine.


While most will experience mild symptoms, about 5 to 10% of those diagnosed with STEC infection are not so lucky.  In some cases, a potentially life-threatening complication known as hemolytic uremic syndrome or HUS develops about 7 days after first symptoms appear, just as diarrheal symptoms are improving.  Early symptoms of HUS include decreased urination, paleness in cheeks and inside lower eyelids, and feeling very tired.  Individuals with HUS must be hospitalized as their kidneys may stop working and potentially develop other serious health complications.  While most will recover within a few weeks, in some cases permanent damage or even death may occur.


HelloFresh is No Stranger to Recalls

This is not HelloFresh’s first rodeo with foodborne illness.  In fact, they seem to have a health alert or recall about once a year.  Some traced to suppliers and others unknown origins.


2019 Recall on HelloFresh Red Peppers

In January 2019, HelloFresh issued a recall on products containing red peppers.  According to the recall, a select product line of HelloFresh and Chef’s plate meals were containing the red peppers were potentially contaminated with Salmonella.


2020 Recall on HelloFresh Onions

In August 2020, HelloFresh issued a recall on products containing onions following a huge supplier recall for red onion.  HelloFresh was not the only company affected in this one.  The California-based company, Thomson International, Inc supplied Walmart, Kroger, Trader Joe’s, Aldi, Publix, Giant Eagle, H-E-B, and Imperfect Foods – all of which issued recalls due to potential Salmonella contamination.


2021 Recall on HelloFresh Onions

In October 2021, HelloFresh issued another recall on products containing onions.  According to the recall, their onion supplier issued a recall on onions used in their meal delivery food products due to potential contamination with the health risk Salmonella.  According to the statement, they discontinued their relationship with this supplier.


Potential Causes

In some cases, contamination such as the onion and pepper ingredients are downline problems from supplied ingredients.  Large companies rely on their trusted suppliers to provide safe ingredients to make their products.  These suppliers are generally vetted and regularly inspected to ensure a safe downline product.  Though sometimes lapses occur.


In other cases, contamination occurs in-house.  In the case of HelloFresh, opportunities for in-house contamination occur at the packaging and distribution steps of the product.


Further still, another not so talked about risk occurs with meal delivery services.


Temperature control.


Temperature sensitive foods are a major concern for meal delivery companies such as HelloFresh.  In some cases, products not kept to acceptable refrigeration temperatures can grow unsafe levels of harmful bacteria.


Ground beef for example, needs to be kept cold from production, through transit, all the way to the time the consumer cooks the product.  Cold packs and insulated shipping containers can only go so far if ambient temperatures are high and time sitting on the consumers doorstep exceeds expectations.


Have You Consume Ground Beef from HelloFresh?

If you have consumed ground beef from HelloFresh and experienced foodborne illness symptoms, it is a good idea to report this experience.  While the alert is issued for 2 lots, the issue could be larger.  The biggest threat is over, as the product should be past the expiration date.  However, if product is frozen and still in consumer hands, it may still be a risk.  If additional lots were affected, this information can be communicated to help prevent others from falling ill.