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New ‘fresh’ vending machines will be regulated like restaurants in NYC

Trendy new ‘fresh’ vending machines that sell yogurt, burrito bowls and salads must be inspected like restaurants, New York officials say

  • Farmers Fridge, a Chicago-based startup has 55 fresh food vending machines across New York City 
  • Its machines carry foods like yogurt, sandwiches, grain bowls, salads and sandwiches 
  • Last month, upon discovering the new machines, city health inspectors were alarmed and warned they raised risks of foodborne illnesses
  • After meeting with officials, the company and health officials agreed the machines should be regulated more like restaurants
  • They will receive regular inspections and regular letter grades for properly sourcing, labeling and storing food 

New York City’s health department is scrambling to regulate a new breed of vending machines that sell fresh prepared foods. 

Officials war that selling prepared fresh snacks in refrigerated machines raises risks of foodborne illnesses. 

Representatives from the Department of Health specifically called out Farmer’s Fridge, a Chicago-based startup that sells ‘fresh’ prepared meals in its vending machines. 

The company had to shut down almost 60 machines across New York City earlier this month after inspectors expressed worry over them.

In light of the recent scare, city officials are creating new rules to regulate the machines much in the same way they do restaurants: checking the ingredients they use and the temperatures at which they stores their pre-made snacks, salads, yogurt and bowls. 

Farmer’s Fridge had to shut down its 55 New York City vending machines after health officials noticed them and worried the pose a food poisoning risk. Now, they’ll be graded and inspected

‘Selling certain prepared foods from a vending machine can create a risk of food-borne illness,’ a Health Department spokesperson told in an emailed statement.  

In particular, what makes vending machines like Farmer’s Fridge ‘better’ – the use of fresh ingredients and less preservatives that are in a bag of chips – may also be what makes them more dangerous. 

Packaged in mason jars, Farmer’s Fridge boasts that its meals contain nutritious fresh vegetables, fruits, yogurt, nuts and healthy grains like quinoa in them. 

Chips, candy, granola and preservative-loaded pastries don’t need to be kept at consistent cool temperatures. 

But fresh produce does, in order to keep bacteria and mold from growing on it. 

A health inspector encountered one of the machines awhile doing site visits in New York City, and it instantly set off warning bells for her, according to the New York Times. 

She reported the Farmer’s Fridge machines to the department.  

The Chicago-based startup was immediately forced to shut down its 55 vending machines in New York City, which were scattered throughout offices and hospitals. 

Vended fresh foods fall between cracks in the regulatory code. 

While they spit out pre-made products, those products are more similar to ‘prepared’ foods you’d find at a fast food eatery, like McDonald’s (whose ex-CEO backs Farmer’s Fridge) or Pret a Manger. 

The health department noted that its current regulations ‘do not take into account all of the vulnerabilities of a prepared food vending machine company such as Farmer’s Fridge.’ 

Prepared meals have to use ingredients from pre-approved sources, be labeled in a certain way and cold foods must be kept at or below 41 degrees F, according to the regulators’ rules. 

According to the New York Times, Farmer’s Fridge and the health department agreed that the vending machines should be treated like dining establishments, and get a letter-grade and regular inspections. 

‘Companies like Farmer’s Fridge signal new changes to the NYC food space and we’re working to create the best enforcement structure to protect the health and safety of New Yorkers,’ a health department spokesperson said. 


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