Daily Harvest Food Debacle Brings E-commerce Food Safety Into Consideration

By Spencer Hulse Spencer Hulse has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on September 2, 2022

The meal kit industry is huge, with various companies offering their take on healthy and convenient meals that are delivered to your door and easy to prepare. Among them, Daily Harvest stood as a clear success, with a $1.1 billion valuation at the end of 2021 and plenty of hype.

However, a recent problem with one of the company’s products resulted in hundreds of people across the US experiencing gastrointestinal pain and abnormal liver function. Of those affected, over 100 were hospitalized, and some required surgery. More than 25 people have even reported needing to have their gallbladders removed.

The number of people affected is the most of any US foodborne illness outbreak to occur this year, which is one of the reasons it hit headlines.

The product that caused everything was Daily Harvest’s French Lentil + Leek Crumbles dish. More specifically, Daily Harvest linked the tara flour in the product to the gastrointestinal issues people faced. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to confirm that finding.

But perhaps more important than the specific cause is what the issue has brought to light about the meal delivery industry: most meal delivery companies are not regulated by the FDA.

There are hundreds of companies that ship food to people across the US, and it is a $15-billion industry, but very few need to register with the FDA. While part of that might be due to its recent rise in popularity during the pandemic, it has led to a situation where these companies are not strictly regulated.

In fact, the companies do not have to follow quite a few FDA regulations meant to promote food safety. That includes regulations specifically aimed at limiting the spread of foodborne illness and sanitary conditions during shipping.

The investigation of Daily Harvest’s recall validated the safety of the company’s supply chain and manufacturing processes. However, that does not mean that all products in the meal kit industry meet the same food safety standards as other food products.

Daily Harvest is not the only company out there facing problems with its products, either. A competitor, Revive Superfoods, is also facing problems and legal action concerning one of its products, a pineapple-mango smoothie.

Additionally, recalls have been seen with other big names in the meal-kit industry, including Hello Fresh, Blue Apron, and Thistle. It is not an uncommon thing, but without proper regulation, knowing whether a product is safe becomes far more difficult.

One big issue at play is that there is no federal regulation regarding how meal kit ingredients are shipped. That means products could arrive to customers at unsafe temperatures, or there can be cross-contamination or spoilage. Moreover, this equally affects registered and unregistered companies.

It is an issue of rules and regulations being left behind by a fast-moving industry that has evolved quickly in a short period of time. And things continue to move slowly since many of these companies deliver products to people in multiple states. After all, even if people are getting sick, it is unlikely to get much attention unless it is on as large a scale as the Daily Harvest issue.

By Spencer Hulse Spencer Hulse has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Spencer Hulse is the Editorial Director at Grit Daily. He is responsible for overseeing other editors and writers, day-to-day operations, and covering breaking news.

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