When ordering take-out, watch out for foodborne illnesses

Take-out food needs to stay out of the temperature danger zone.

With the holiday season in full swing, planning and making meals at home tends to go out the window with everyone in a hurry. There is holiday shopping to do, holiday concerts and school programs to attend and more. It may be easier to order take-out than to spend time planning and making a meal, but food safety still needs to be considered. Foodborne illness never take a break. 

If you are out running errands and doing holiday shopping, make the last stop on the list the take-out or deli to avoid the food being in the temperature danger zone too long.  Hot food needs to be kept hot, at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and cold food needs to be kept cold, at or below 40 F. If the take-out food is left in the temperature danger zone longer than two hours, it must be thrown away. It only takes some foodborne illness bugs to grow to dangerous levels and make people sick. Clostridium perfingens loves hanging out in the temperature danger zone waiting for some unsuspecting victim to make sick.

If the take-out food needs to be reheated, it must be reheated until it is hot and steaming. Use a food grade thermometer to verify that the reheated food has reached 165 F. A soup or gravy needs to be reheated until it is boiling before it can be served. When reheating the take-out or deli food, remove it from the Styrofoam or plastic container and place in a food grade or microwaveable container. Microwave the food until it reaches the temperature of 165 F. If reheating in the oven, the oven needs to have reached the temperature of 325 F. before putting the food in the oven.

Michigan State University Extension does not recommend reheating in a chafing dish or a slow cooker. These appliances are only designed to keep foods hot, not to get the food to a minimum internal cooking temperature of 165 F.

What happens to the leftovers after the meal?  They should be cooled quickly. Put the take-out food into shallow covered containers in to the refrigerator. The following are recommendations for refrigerator storage times at 40 F:   

Cooked meat or poultry

3 to 4 days

Fried chicken

3 to 4 days


3 to 4 days

Deli-sliced luncheon meats 3 to 5 days
Deli-prepared convenience foods such as egg, tuna, and macaroni salads 3 to 5 days

Storing the food longer than the recommendations will lead to food spoilage and/or foodborne illness. If the leftovers are to be stored longer than the recommendations, the leftovers should be frozen. The freezer temperature should be 0 F or lower. To store leftovers in the freezer, they should be wrapped in moisture or vapor proof plastic wrap, bags, or containers. If foods are stored longer that the freezer recommendations, the quality will go downhill.

After a busy day of errands and shopping, if the choice for dinner is take-out or deli foods, make it the last stop.  It will then truly be a treat, without fear of foodborne illness.

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