Are Meal Delivery Services FDA-Regulated?

Meal delivery services are not necessarily FDA regulated.

Key Takeaways

  • Meal delivery services are popular but in the United States, they are not necessarily regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
  • An increasing number of food safety issues have been linked to meal delivery services.
  • Food safety experts recommend asking questions, doing your research, and reading reviews before signing up for a meal delivery service.

Easy, cost-effective, and tasty, meal delivery services and kits have exploded in popularity over the past few years. In fact, one global consumer research platform found that 48% of Americans tried a meal delivery service at least once in 2021.

More recently, the attention on meal delivery services has been more negative, as many have been plagued with food safety issues.

In June, Daily Harvest issued a voluntary recall of its French Lentil + Leek Crumbles after the product was linked to 470 reports of illness or adverse reactions, including gastrointestinal symptoms and liver function problems.

Now, the company is facing several lawsuits linked to the recall.

In September, HelloFresh issued a recall after ground beef in some of its meal kits was linked to an E. coli outbreak that put at least six people in the hospital.

The recalls have raised questions about the food safety of meal kits and delivery services, including whether they’re regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The short answer? It’s complicated. Here’s what experts want you to know before signing up.

Are Meal Delivery Services FDA Regulated?

Darin Detwiler, PhD, an associate professor of food safety at Northeastern University, told Verywell that while meal kit delivery services are popular, very few companies are required to register with the FDA.

While some states “require third-party delivery services to have some level of food safety certification, the FDA is not necessarily involved,” he said.

The biggest issue, according to Detwiler, is that meal delivery services are still a relatively new business category.

Quality and safety standards exist for restaurants and grocery stores, but meal kit delivery doesn’t quite fit into that box. According to Detwiler, these services are industry “disruptors.” While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it does make regulation tricky.

Detwiler points out that we “have a system where our policies and regulatory compliances are built on brick-and-mortar restaurants and stores—which meal kit services are not.“

“Any time you have something that goes outside of that, it becomes more of a challenge,” he said.

Benjamin Chapman, PhD, a professor and food safety specialist at North Carolina State University, told Verywell that the regulatory process for meal delivery services is complicated. As for who oversees food safety for any given meal delivery service, Chapman said that “it really depends on how the business is set up.”

The “kit” aspect of most meal delivery services refers to the different components that are included—but those ingredients don’t necessarily all come from the same place.

“The foods that go into a meal kit—like a sauce or processed item—are usually made by an FDA-regulated processor or USDA-regulated meat processor,” Chapman said. “But it really depends.”

Benjamin Chapman, PhD

You assume that all foods are regulated, but that’s just not the case.

— Benjamin Chapman, PhD

In other words, just because a food is on the market doesn’t mean it’s regulated.

“You assume that all foods are regulated,” said Chapman. “But that’s just not the case.”

How to Safely Use a Meal Delivery Service

You don’t have to avoid meal delivery services, but experts do recommend some steps that you can take to stay safe.

  • Do your own research. A meal delivery service may disclose a recall on its website—for example, in the news, media, or blog section. If not, you can always check the FDA’s database to see if a company that you’re considering using has had a recall.
  • Read the reviews. There will always be people who say they love or hate a service, but Detwiler recommends looking for themes among reviews. If you’re seeing a lot of people reporting that they got sick after eating a company’s product or that it arrived spoiled, play it safe and pass.
  • Ask questions. You can check the website of a service you’re interested in for more information, but know that the key info you want might not be available online. Chapman recommends calling a company’s customer service line and specifically asking how they’re regulated. Chapman said that “if they can’t answer that question, move on.”
  • See how flexible they are. Detwiler said you should make sure that you can put a hold on your delivery service if you’re going to be out of town. Otherwise, food could be left out longer than it should, raising the risk of foodborne illness.

By Korin Miller
Korin Miller is a health and lifestyle journalist who has been published in The Washington Post, Prevention, SELF, Women's Health, The Bump, and Yahoo, among other outlets.