A TikTok creator’s recent apology after people accused her of improperly packaging her homemade pickled products before selling them online has sparked discourse surrounding influencers and whether they should be allowed to promote and sell homemade food items on the app.
PickleMeEverything, who did not immediately respond to NBC News’ request for comment, posted a video on Dec. 23 responding to bubbling criticism online that accused her of defying one of California’s food safety laws when rolling out her pickled products.
"I want to apologize to everyone. I'm so sorry for all of this. It just happened so fast," she said in her video. She said she’s refunding everyone’s orders and recently rented a commercial kitchen. "I’m working on getting all the licenses, the permits, whatever it is I need to get done," she said.
While people purchasing homemade food from private citizens near them isn’t new, food safety experts who spoke with NBC News said they are concerned about how social media has made it significantly easier to buy and sell these products more widely.
And people are just so willing to order food without really understanding what’s been done to make that food.
— Britanny Saunier, executive director of the Partnership for Food Safety Education
Social media creates "enthusiasm" around homemade products, said Britanny Saunier, the executive director of the nonprofit organization Partnership for Food Safety Education.
“And people are just so willing to order food without really understanding what’s been done to make that food,” she said.
The backlash toward PickleMeEverything’s products comes several months after another viral product raised eyebrows over similar food safety fears. TikToker Chef Pii was questioned about the safety surrounding her viral homemade dipping sauce, “pink sauce.” Since then, however, Dave’s Gourmet announced a partnership with the sauce creator.
PickleMeEverything’s products first came under scrutiny after food nutrition TikToker Food Science Babe made a video last week criticizing the creator, saying she was incorrectly packaging her pickles.
In her video, which has garnered more than 1.3 million views, Food Science Babe responds to a now-deleted video made by PickleMeEverything in which she talks about how her products may come with “minor leaking” as they are “hand sealed, not pressure sealed, not pressure cooked … nothing involved.”
Food Science Babe did not immediately respond to an interview request.
“Not only is she clearly not canning them correctly, but pickled and canned foods are actually not even allowed under cottage law in California,” Food Science Babe said in her video. Cottage laws, which allow residents to sell certain foods made in a private home kitchen, vary state by state.
Food Science Babe said she had reported PickleMeEverything to the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Health.
A spokesperson for the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Health declined to comment and referred NBC News to the state's laws.
Low-acid or acidified food is prohibited under cottage law due to the risk of botulism, according to the California Department of Public Health. Canning these foods reduces the oxygen level in the process making it the ideal condition for Clostridium botulinum.
Less than 5 of every 100 people with botulism die, and 110 cases are reported annually in the U.S. on average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many who survive the illness, which attacks the body’s nerves, are subject to fatigue and shortness of breath for years.
The CDC estimates that "48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases each year in the United States."
Darin Detwiler, the director of the Master of Science in the Regulatory Affairs of Food and Food Industries program at Northeastern University, said how PickleMeEverything could face serious legal repercussions.
“She’s literally exposed herself to being sued, if not by the state of California, but by individuals for violating laws,” said Detwiler, who also served as a U.S. Agriculture Department regulatory policy adviser.
He said he’s concerned about the growing number of TikTokers who don’t know or use food safety while promoting food products.
Food Science Babe pointed out in her video that several popular creators had promoted PickleMeEverything’s products.
Food reviewer Keith Lee, who has over 5 million followers on TikTok, is among the creators who issued an apology to his viewers for posting videos praising the pickles.
“I want to take this time to say I take full accountability and I apologize for not doing my research like I usually do,” Lee said in his video last week. He deleted his original review.
TikToker Ophelia Nichols, who has over 10 million followers, also addressed the video of her review.
“I had tried those pickles and made a video about them because they were good,” she said in her video.
While Nichols had no issues with her package, she said it had come to her attention that there may have been “proof that the jars are not being sealed correctly.”
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“As creators, when we’re sent something like that, that’s them assuring us, ‘Hey this is safe for you to try, therefore it’s safe for everybody else to try,’” she said. “We put our faith in that company.”
Nichols said that she reached out to PickleMeEverything and that she was assured everything had been done safely. However, she said she removed her original video until “further notice.”
Neither Nichols nor Lee immediately responded to requests for further comment.
Saunier said she doesn’t believe PickleMeEverything’s incorrect packaging was done maliciously. But she said that doesn’t take away from the products being potentially unsafe for people to consume.
“I do think people are well-intentioned,” she said. “They have a great idea, maybe they have a recipe that their community loves or their immediate family loves and tells them they should package and sell it. They do it to maybe grow their own business or start a new career path without realizing all the necessary steps that need to happen under food safety laws. And I think that’s part of the issue.”
On Tuesday, PickleMeEverything posted her first video since the apology. In it, she appears to showcase her new commercial kitchen space.
In her caption, she expressed gratitude to her followers for their patience and said she’s “working hard on getting back up and running.”
In the TikTok video's comments section, several people continued to question PickleMeEverything’s production process.
“you have to make sure you get proper license,” one commenter wrote.
“You need to find a packing partner who meet licensing requirements before this type of commitment,” another viewer added.
But others came to PickleMeEverything’s defense, calling her efforts a comeback.
“Once you get up and running, I’ll be ordering,” one user wrote in the comments. “This is what it’s about, leveling up from the lessons!”
Many also wrote in the comments that they look forward to ordering and supporting a small business.
One user simply went to the comments section to suggest that the entire ordeal “is literally the pink sauce all over again.”
As of Wednesday, PickleMeEverything’s website storefront did not list any products for sale.