Meal kit delivery services promise you delicious home-cooked meals, delivered directly to your door with pre-portioned ingredients and step-by-step recipes.
But the NBC2 Investigators uncovered that convenience could be putting your family’s health at risk.
With raw ingredients sitting on your doorstep in the hot Florida sun, we wanted to know if the food is safe to eat.
An FDA spokesperson told NBC2 that the agency has not issued any guidance yet: “The FDA is currently studying the issue but has not issued any guidance specific to home meal delivery kits,” said Peter Cassell, U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
That’s why the NBC2 Investigators wanted to conduct our own test, so we ordered meal kits from three popular companies and teamed up with Tony Harn, Food and Nutrition Quality Assurance manager at Lee Health, to put the ingredients to the test.
“If you order something from one of these companies, you may be expecting one thing and getting something different because they don’t fall under those same rules and regulations,” Harn said.
We let each box sit outside for two hours, like you might do if your meal kit arrived while you were working. We hid the name-tags from Harn. And then, we brought the boxes inside. We started our testing with Plated. Its meats are not labeled with expiration dates or ingredient lists.
“This is just a chicken breast, but there is no ingredient statement, and it may just be chicken, or it may be chicken with water, but let’s say it was a marinated piece; there’s no breakdown of ingredients. That can come into play if you have an allergy to something or food intolerance to something like MSG,” Harn said. “That’s really a big red flag for me.”
Plated’s website also promises that “its insulated boxes will keep food fresh until midnight on delivery day.” Using a calibrated thermometer, we tested the refrigerated ingredients. “Forty-one degrees to 135 degrees is your temperature danger zone. That’s when bacteria starts reproducing,” Harn said. Each item should be below 41 degrees.
Cheese – 53 Degrees
Yogurt – 54 Degrees
Poultry – 37 Degrees
Ground Beef – 33 Degrees
Plated went 2 for 4. We then moved on to Blue Apron. This time, we noticed the products were clearly labeled. “Here’s the nutritional facts; there’s a USDA bug number and an ingredient sticker,” Harn said. When we conducted our testing, Blue Apron’s website said ingredients were carefully packaged to stay fresh for the entire delivery day. Using a calibrated thermometer, we tested the refrigerated ingredients.
Blue Apron results:
Cheese – 67 Degrees
Fish – 50 Degrees
Beef – 36 Degrees
Poultry – 40 Degrees
Blue Apron also went 2 for 4. HelloFresh was next. Its products were also clearly labeled, and on its website, the company says that “boxes are layered with insulating liners and ice packs to keep ingredients cool.” Using a calibrated thermometer, we tested the refrigerated ingredients.
Cheese – 60 Degrees
Sour Cream – 60 Degrees
Poultry – 47 Degrees
Beef – 50 Degrees
HelloFresh went 0 for 4. “It doesn’t surprise me just because of all the challenges there are,” Harn said. “There’s a lot of food safety challenges for a company that is going to ship something overnight to a consumer and keep that product fresh and refrigerated during transport.”
If we cooked these foods that were over 41 degrees, would we actually get sick? Harn said it depends on a person’s immune system, but he doesn’t think it’s worth the risk. “There are 48 million cases of food-borne illness every year, and 3,000 deaths every year, according to the CDC,” Harn said.