The ease of home-delivery meal kits is too tempting for many a busy American to resist. (You promise we can skip the long supermarket line and instead have beluga lentil tacos delivered right to our front door? Where do we sign up?) Yet new research shows why we should be way more selective in the service we choose. Here's why.
Speaking at the 2017 Food Safety Summit on Thursday, Rutgers University human ecology professor Bill Hallman warned consumers that many ready-to-cook dinner packages—especially those that contain meat—aren't nearly as safe as we think.
Along with a team at the university, Hallman studied 169 meal kits, interviewed more than 1,000 consumers, and reviewed more than 400 food delivery websites, and uncovered serious concerns. For starters, most home-delivery meal kits are likely to be left outside for more than eight hours before they're refrigerated or opened by consumers—and only five percent require a signature upon delivery.
And while home-delivery meal kits vendors can't make you unpack a package in a timely manner, what's more concerning, Hallman said, is this: most of the vendors disclaim responsibility for any food safety concerns when timely deliveries aren't made, and the delivery providers—FedEx, UPS, and USPS—also won't own up.
What's more, the researchers found that only 42 percent of companies provide any kind of food safety information on their websites. When it is provided, Hallman said, it's difficult to locate and very often inaccurate. For example, one such company told consumers that, "your bison meat may be thawed by the time it gets to you," reports Hallman. The instructions continued, "touch the meat and if it is cool to the touch, your order is in good condition," he says. But that's not correct, Hallman says, adding that "cool to the touch" is not a food safety standard anyone should abide.
The researchers received kits that arrived in temperatures that ranged from minus 23 degrees to 75 degrees, a temperature far too warm to safely store food such as meat, especially for the number of hours packages regularly sit untouched. In fact, 47 percent of the kits the researchers studied arrived too warm to safely consume.
When the researchers tested that temperate meat, poultry, and seafood, what they found wasn't good. Hallman reported that "microbial loads [were]off the charts" in many of the packages, especially those with temperatures of 60 degrees and higher.
This isn't to scare you into canceling your home-delivery meal kit service, of course. But it's a good opportunity to review the one you've chosen to make sure it's adhering to the highest packaging and delivery standards, as well as providing valuable—and accurate—food safety information for your reference online.