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Is the Food In Meal Kit Delivery Services Actually Safe to Eat?

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At the rate that new meal delivery services are popping up, grocery stores could conceivably become a thing of the past. (Especially now that Amazon's getting in on the action.) There's now a meal delivery service for every dietary preference: vegan, low-carb, nut-free, you name it. It makes sense that the services are becoming so popular. Avoiding a trip to the grocery store is a small victory.

But with the overflow of these subscription services, some skeptics are asking about the negative implications—like the environmental impact of packaging and all those boxes piling up in your lobby. Another icky thought: Is the food really kept at a safe, cold enough temperature during transit? Not always, according to a Rutgers University study. Researchers interviewed more than 1,000 meal service customers and ordered 169 meal kit packages themselves. They reported that 47 percent of the food items arrived with surface temperatures above 40 degrees, which falls in the USDA's  "danger zone"—food that reaches a temperature between 40 and 140 degrees. Bacteria grows most rapidly in that range. Yikes.

The FDA has regulations to guarantee that food is kept safe while being transported, but once the food's been delivered, it's up to the customer to refrigerate or freeze it in time. The main food safety issue with meal delivery kits stems from the fact that most companies leave a large window of time for delivery and don't require a signature upon arrival, says Healthline's nutrition expert, Natalie Olsen, RD.

But before you delete your Hello Fresh or Blue Apron account, Olsen says that while the study does highlight some major food safety concerns, as long as you take the proper precautions, there's no reason to avoid these convenient services altogether. "You just want to be mindful of how long the food has been sitting outside, and if it's above 40 degrees or if there's any thawing or the meat is not fully frozen still, then that's definitely problematic and increases the risk for food-borne illness."

Basically: Only sign up for one of these subscriptions (or sign up for less frequent shipments) if your schedule allows you to promptly refrigerate the package. Olsen suggests not letting your order sit out for more than an hour or two. But regardless of how quickly you grab your package, check the temperatures of its contents. And if you notice any leaking or weird smells, don't take any chances. (Related: Do You Have a Stomach Bug or Was It That Food You Ate?)

"For the most part I think home delivery meal services are great because they help increase your nutrient variety," says Olsen. (Use these five tricks to get more nutrients out of your produce.) "You're trying new things instead of buying the same 20 to 25 foods at the grocery store. I think the positives outweigh the negatives as long as you're smart about not letting it spoil."

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