Farmer's Fridge Vending Machines sell Prepared FoodsThe city’s Health Department is cracking down on a new kind of fast-food by regulating vending machines that sell prepared salads.

“Selling certain prepared foods from a vending machine can create a risk of food-borne illness, and the New York City Health Code sets out food safety requirements for food vending machines,” a Health Dept. spokesman told The Post.

The increased oversight was sparked by a Chicago-based startup called Farmer’s Fridge that sells parfaits, salads, sandwiches and pasta bowls out of high-tech vending machines called “automated Smart fridges”

A Health Department inspector came across one of the fridges during a routine review of a cafeteria where it was located. City officials then contacted the company’s founder in late October about regulating the machines.

“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,” the Health Dept. spokesman said.

Farmer’s Fridge then voluntarily shut down its nearly 60 machines located in hospitals, colleges and private offices across the city during discussions with city officials.

“The Health Department worked with Farmer’s Fridge to be sure their equipment would hold food at safe temperatures, and that foods were properly labeled and from approved sources,” the spokesman said.

The fridges are located in over 50 cities and towns across the country. Food is made from scratch and transported in the company’s refrigerated trucks, according to Farmer’s Fridge founder Luke Saunders.

His machines have built-in safety mechanisms including a device that takes the fridge’s temperature every five minutes. If it gets too warm the machine automatically shuts down. The fridges also block the sale of items that have expired.

It’s too early to say whether the machines will get the same inspections and letter grades given to restaurants, the spokesman said.

Leon Lubarsky, with the food safety firm Letter Grade Consulting, agreed that the machines “should be regulated on some level,” especially since leafy greens that get too warm can be hazardous to people’s health.

But, he added, “I believe that it should not have the same requirements as a restaurant” because the food is also inspected by the state during preparation.

So far Health Department officials have said that ingredients must come from approved sources, packaged products need labels and cold foods have to be stored at 41 degrees. Saunders had to fill out the same lengthy food service application and pay the city the $280 fee that restaurants must submit.

Saunders said he would welcome the grades in addition to random inspections performed by Health Dept. staff.

“I think we’re doing a lot to keep people safe and to be recognized for that would be great,” Saunders said. He hopes the machines will be available again in the coming weeks.

New Yorkers gave mixed reviews of the new regulations.

“I’m surprised that the company was able to slip past the Health Department to begin with, considering they stock perishable foods,” Queens resident Greg Yuan, 28, told The Post.

“With all the E. coli recalls going on, I’d want to make sure the salad I’m eating is up to government code before I put it in my mouth,” Yuan said.

But Robert Sands, 30, a graphic designer from Hoboken, NJ said the new rules were overkill.

“The products inside have already passed code to get here in the first place. It’s just healthy food sitting in a refrigerator. I don’t get what the big deal is,” Sands said.

By Julia Marsh – See it in New York Post