Meal Kit delivery services are convenient. For the busy mom, the bachelor, or the college co-ed who wants to learn to cook, they are an amazing new tool. They promise to deliver at your door high quality homemade meals with pre-proportionate ingredients and step by step recipes. Even some celebrities are endorsing them, considering how tasty and healthy they are. From 2015 to 2016, meal kits grew in popularity by 236%. With over 100 companies offering these services, it is now a $5 billion per year industry. And it is only set to increase with Amazon joining the race. But this new convenience item begs the big question: Are meal kits safe? Here’s what you need to know about Meal Kit Safety.
There are so many choices ranging from non-vegetarian to vegetarian, from vegan to dairy free along with those that cater to specific allergies. And if that was not enough, there are meal kits that directly serve to particular geographical areas. So, you can get any type of meal kit you want.
But shipping perishable food to consumers on a regular basis can definitely be challenging. There have been concerns about the food safety associated with these meal kits.
Research Work Showing Gaps in Food Safety of Meal Kits:
On the final day of the 2017 Food Safety Summit, Rutgers University professor Bill Hallman delivered a session on “Home Delivery”. He highlighted the results of the study by Rutgers-Tennessee State University that looked into the food safety of home delivered kits. They ordered delivery of 169 meal kits including entrees of 235 seafood items, 271 meat items, 133 game items and 39 poultry items.
The study found that 47% of the orders arrived with surface temperatures of the food above 40 degrees. This makes them unsafe to consume. Surface temperatures ranged from minus 23 degrees to 75 degrees when packed in dry ice and gel packs respectively. The surface temperatures differed among the products in the same shipments and also at different locations for the same food product. Labelling was also not proper with ground beef, pork and lamb often arriving without any labels.
The study also interviewed 1002 consumers and collected reviews from 427 domestic food delivery sites. 95% of the consumers thought that the meal kits were safe. But, the results of the research proved otherwise and showed that the kits were left outside for eight or more hours before it was either opened or refrigerated.
The delivery partners like FedEx and US all disclaim responsibility for the integrity of these meal kits. And only 42 percent of these food companies provide any food safety information for their products on the website and even if they do, they are difficult to find and are inaccurate.
FDA has not issued any guidance related to food safety of home meal kits and is still studying the issue.
Let’s look at what three of the biggest meal kit companies have to say about food safety:
HelloFresh has been garnering a lot of attention by creating meal kits that people love. But when it comes to food safety they have had their fair share of problems. In 2016, they issued a recall because of Listeria contamination in its frozen pea supply. This prompted them to hire a new Head of Food Safety & Quality Assurance.
HelloFresh also performed worst in the testing for how cold the food should be kept. According to an NBC affiliate in Florida, no food portion in their test meal kit was at a proper cold temperature. Even though none of the subscription services were perfect, HelloFresh was the worst among all of them and failed in every category.
On their website, they clearly mention the recipes, ingredients and special packaging to keep dairy and meat fresh. However, nothing is mentioned about what is so special about the packaging.
Blue Apron delivers around 8 millions kits per month. With immense growth comes increased demand for food safety. The company has faced some violations in the past and have tackled them effectively. But further growth can bring a lot of similar problems in the future. Blue Apron doesn’t provide a lot about the food safety. Although, they have mentioned that the inspections by on-site facilities and third party are continuously done so as to make sure they are complying with rules and regulations of the food safety.
The kits instructs on how to store, handle and cook foods. They are insulated so as to keep the temperature perfectly stable but you should refrigerate the contents once you get them delivered.
Plated hasn’t had any major food safety issues in the past. The company touts about how the insulated boxes keep food fresh for longer, but just like others, fails to meet the accurate conditions. They claim that their pigs and poultry are free of antibiotics and beef have no added hormones in it. They also boast about the seafood being sustainably caught or farmed and using as much organic ingredients as possible.
75% of the Americans have heard about the meal kit services, 25% have tried the free samples and 20% are already using them. With more people becoming involved in the trend, it is important that we discuss on what can you do to protect yourself from any illnesses.
What can consumers do assure that their meal kits are safe?
Opt for companies that have good customer reviews. Also look for answers to questions such as has the company had any major recalls or food safety issues?, does the company take responsibility for damaged products?, what information is given on the meal kits? etc. Do ask questions about food temperature management and how the shipments are handles.
Be There for Delivery
Be at home when your meal kit gets delivered and freeze it as soon as it arrives. If your delivery kit sits out for a long time then the temperature might reach above the food safety standards. If it is not possible to be present for the delivery, ask the delivery person to keep it somewhere it is shaded or ask a family or friend to store it safely.
Check for Damage
Do not cook or even keep the products that are tampered with or is damaged. If the juices from the meat is leaked then it is now full of deadly food borne bacteria. Use a meat thermometer to check if the product is in a safe range before refrigerating it.
Reach Out to the Company
If you have any problems with your meal kit like the temperature of the meat is not proper or you don’t have enough information you need, leave a feedback with the company’s authorities. Bringing these important issues to light will help the companies to take appropriate action. This will help in preventing any foodborne illnesses.