Recently, consumers have been introduced to a new meal option: You can have half-prepared meals delivered to your door for you to prepare in your kitchen. You still have to cook what’s being sent to you, but you’re being taught to prepare meals that are otherwise not on the menu at your home. Sounds perfect, right?

Well, not so much. Through our research, we found that these companies are sometimes less than forthcoming about what they’re shipping over, often to customers living in entirely different parts of the country. When it comes to shipping food, maintaining temperatures under 40 degrees is extremely important, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Food that measures in the range between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. The USDA says that food within this range can see bacteria populations double every 20 minutes if it is left out. 

The average consumer isn’t privy to this, and the chances of cooking spoiled meat are far from impossible. Unfortunately, we found more than a few examples in our food boxes…

For this research, we had food boxes from the most prominent players in the game delivered to three locations in Florida, California, and Texas. Outdoor temperatures measured 68 degrees and 65 degrees in Texas and California, respectively, when the orders arrived. The weather in Florida was 75 degrees when orders arrived the following day. Temperatures were recorded at 6 p.m., when customers are expected to come home from work and unbox their meal kits.

Let’s take a closer look at five food box services and how they performed in our test.

Blue Apron

City, StateMeatTemperature (°F)RefundPercent above safe temperatureSafe to eat
Austin, TexasChicken (sample 1)28.7°F N/A-28.25%Yes
Austin, TexasChicken (sample 2)34.1°F N/A-14.75%Yes
Austin, TexasBeef32.8°F N/A-18%Yes
Los Angeles, CaliforniaChicken (sample 1)Did not arriveN/AN/AN/A
Los Angeles, CaliforniaChicken (sample 2)Did not arriveN/AN/AN/A
Los Angeles, CaliforniaBeefDid not arriveN/AN/AN/A
West Palm Beach. FloridaChicken (sample 1)48.2°F Yes-20.5%Yes
West Palm Beach. FloridaChicken (sample 2)38.6°F Yes3.5%No
West Palm Beach. FloridaBeef41°F Yes-2.5%
Yes

One of the most recognized names in the budding food box delivery industry did not do well in our experiment. All the food, which included two meals with chicken and one with beef, was within the safe temperature range when delivered to our Texas location. Our Florida delivery was a different story. Two of the meats were measured above the safe temperature limit. Our California location did not receive the delivery at all.

Hello Fresh

City, StateMeatTemperature (°F)RefundPercent above safe temperatureSafe to eat
Austin, TexasChicken28.4°F N/A-29%Yes
Austin, TexasPork 28.9°F N/A-27.75%Yes
Austin, TexasBeef28.8°F N/A-28%Yes
Los Angeles, CaliforniaChicken30.1°F N/A-24.75%Yes
Los Angeles, CaliforniaPork 30.1°F N/A-24.75%Yes
Los Angeles, CaliforniaBeef31.3°F N/A-21.75%Yes
West Palm Beach. FloridaChicken32.5°F N/A-18.75%Yes
West Palm Beach. FloridaPork 38.5°F N/A-4.25%Yes
West Palm Beach. FloridaBeef38.4°F N/A-4%
Yes

The Berlin-based Hello Fresh is the most significant meal-kit provider in North America. It performed much better than Blue Apron did, with all orders being received in all locations, and all meats found within the safe temperature limit. Protein choices for the orders included chicken, pork, and beef. None of the food materials were damaged. Our beef order in Florida came close to approaching the temp limit but remained 4 degrees under when we unboxed it.

Home Chef

City, StateMeatTemperature (°F)RefundPercent above safe temperatureSafe to eat
Austin, TexasChicken37°F N/A-7.5%Yes
Austin, TexasPork 30.3°F N/A-24.25%Yes
Austin, TexasBeef28.6°F N/A-28.5%Yes
Los Angeles, CaliforniaChicken29.2°F N/A-27%Yes
Los Angeles, CaliforniaPork 30.8°F N/A-23%Yes
Los Angeles, CaliforniaBeef31.5°F N/A-21.25%Yes
West Palm Beach. FloridaChicken49.2°F Yes23%No
West Palm Beach. FloridaPork 41°F Yes2.5%No
West Palm Beach. FloridaBeef43.1°F Yes7.75%
No

This Chicago-based meal kit delivery service appeared like it was going to pass our examination with flying colors until our order in Florida arrived. Once again, our three meal selections included helpings of chicken, pork, and beef — all of which were in the USDA’s “danger zone” when they arrived in Florida. The company was able to refund all three orders to that location. 

Plated

City, StateMeatTemperature (°F)RefundPercent above safe temperatureSafe to eat
Austin, TexasChicken32.3°F N/A-19.25%Yes
Austin, TexasPork 31.4°F N/A-21.5%Yes
Austin, TexasBeef34.9°F N/A-12.75%Yes
Los Angeles, CaliforniaChicken33.8°F N/A-15.5%Yes
Los Angeles, CaliforniaPork 42.2°F N/A5.5%No
Los Angeles, CaliforniaBeef44.7°F N/A11.75%No
West Palm Beach. FloridaChickenN/AYesN/AN/A
West Palm Beach. FloridaPork N/AYesN/AN/A
West Palm Beach. FloridaBeefN/AYesN/AN/A

Plated, which began as a startup in 2012 and later purchased by grocery chain Albertsons in 2017, had the worst performance of all the companies we examined in this study. Our helpings of chicken, pork, and beef all made it to our Texas location and were safe to eat, but that’s where the good news stops. The chicken dish made it to California, but the pork and beef both arrived at a temperature considered unsafe to eat. The company did not offer refunds for either of those orders. None of the three orders arrived in Florida, but refunds were issued.

Martha & Marley Spoon

City, StateMeatTemperature (°F)RefundPercent above safe temperatureSafe to eat
Austin, TexasChicken32.3°F N/A-19.25%Yes
Austin, TexasPork 31.4°F N/A-21.5%Yes
Austin, TexasBeef34.9°F N/A-12.75%Yes
Los Angeles, CaliforniaChicken33.8°F N/A-15.5%Yes
Los Angeles, CaliforniaPork 42.2°F N/A5.5%No
Los Angeles, CaliforniaBeef44.7°F N/A11.75%No
West Palm Beach. FloridaChickenN/AYesN/AYes
West Palm Beach. FloridaPork N/AYesN/AYes
West Palm Beach. FloridaBeefN/AYesN/AYes

This meal kit service is headquartered in Berlin, Germany, and enjoys some star power thanks to its partnership with television personality Martha Stewart. It did reasonably well on our test, safe for one delivery. Our chicken delivery in California from the service arrived, measuring 19 percent above the 40-degree limit. The company refunded us for the error. All three boxes were well-within the acceptable limit in Florida and Texas.

Solutions

There are a lot of things to consider from our results, and there are pretty easy solutions to these problems. Places like Florida are going to be more challenging for these companies to deliver to, as outdoor temperatures are famously hotter in the Sunshine State than the rest of the country. Regardless, customers need to be aware of the potential risks they are taking. The temperature limit we mentioned above should be displayed on both the boxes as well as on the websites and mobile applications for all five of these services. After all, they are marketing to people who are less likely to know this information. Also, including miniature thermometers with the boxes, which can cost as little as a few dollars apiece, would do a lot to improve customer safety and awareness.

Conclusion

With food boxes becoming more popular, especially with young adult professionals who feel they don’t have the time to plan out their meals week after week, knowing what you’re getting is essential. As we said above, these companies are marketing to people that presumably know little about proper food preparation — and the USDA’s temp limit. As we found, errors in this category are not uncommon.

When hiring professional help, you need transparency and competence — and this is true for any project. Lawn care, like cooking, is one of those things a lot of people put off because they feel like they don’t have the time or energy for it. Lawnstarter.com keeps all of this in mind, and the results are apparent. Believe it or not, this can help your culinary life, as well. Lawnstarter offers excellent gardening advice, so you can start growing your food today.

Methodology

Lawnstarter employees ordered subscription meal boxes from Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Home Chef, Plated and Martha & Marley Spoon on 11/5/19. These boxes were shipped to 3 different locations (Austin, Texas, Los Angeles, California, And West Palm Beach Florida.) All 3 Locations used Lavatools Javelin PRO instant-read meat thermometers to measure the internal temperature of the meat. The samples had the meat thermometer inserted 1 inch into the meat and left until the temperature stabilization feature of the thermometer sounded. Austin and Los Angeles samples were delivered on 11/11/19 and measured at 6 pm respective to their time zones. The Florida samples were delivered on 11/11/19 and measured at 6 pm.

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