Don’t bring home a foodborne illness bug when dining on take-out

For safe take-out food avoid the temperature danger zone!

With the hustle and bustle during holidays, meal preparation and planning may go out the window with a quick stop at the local deli or take-out restaurant. However foodborne illness never takes a break. When bringing home deli or take-out foods, it is important to keep these foods out of the temperature danger zone. Hot foods need to be kept at 140 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Keeping the food warm is not enough because the foodborne illness bacteria will grow rapidly in the temperature danger zone of 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit. Cold foods need to be kept at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. If the foods are in the temperature danger zone too long, the maximum time limit is two hours before they need to be thrown away. Clostridium Perfringens likes to live in time-temperature abused take-out foods, waiting for an unsuspecting victim.

If it is necessary to reheat food, bring the internal temperature up to 165 degrees Fahrenheit or until the food is hot and steaming. The internal temperature of the food can be checked with a food grade or meat thermometer. If a soup or gravy needs to be reheated, it needs to be brought to boiling hot before being served.

When reheating food, remove it from the Styrofoam or plastic container, before placing it in the microwave or oven. Place the food on a microwave safe plate or in a container and then in the microwave.

If the reheating process is taking place in the oven, the temperature of the oven needs to be at least 325 degrees Fahrenheit before the food goes in.

Michigan State University Extension does not recommend reheating foods in chafing dishes or slow cookers because these appliances are designed to keep hot foods hot, not to reheat or cook food.

What do you do with leftovers from the take out meal? Leftovers should be refrigerated immediately after a meal. Choose shallow, covered containers so the food will cool quickly.

The following are recommendations for refrigerator storage times at 41 degrees Fahrenheit:

  • Cooked meat or poultry – three to four days
  • Fried chicken – three to four days
  • Pizza – three to four days
  • Deli-sliced luncheon meats – three to five days
  • Deli-prepared convenience foods such as egg, tuna and macaroni salads – three to five days

Storing foods longer than these recommendations could lead to spoilage or the food becoming unsafe.

If a longer storage time is desired then, freezer storage at zero degree is necessary. For longer storage food needs to be wrapped in moisture and vapor proof packaging and stored in the freezer. When foods are frozen longer than recommended, they are safe but the quality may not be very good. Salads with a mayonnaise base do not freeze well.

If the day has been hectic and the choice for dinner is deli or take-out, do it safely by making the take-out restaurant the last stop on the way home. Then the take-out meal can truly be a treat and no one will get sick with a foodborne illness.

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