Keep food safe even when you get take-out
With busy families and crazy schedules, take-out and pizza delivery have taken the place of elaborate, sit-down meals, especially during a hectic weekday.
But even though someone else cooked your meal, advised Amanda Horn, a registered dietitian and the Family and Consumer Sciences Educator for the Oklahoma County OSU Cooperative Extension Service, you should still be concerned about food safety.
"We need to remember that food can make us sick if it's not handled in the right way," Horn stressed. "Most foods cannot sit out on a counter until you're ready to eat it. Cold and perishable foods need to be refrigerated and hot foods need to be kept hot."
If hot foods will not be eaten within two hours of being delivered, they need to be either kept hot in the oven or refrigerated and re-heated, Horn stressed.
"Remember the two-hour rule," said Horn. "We need to discard all perishable foods that have been left out of the cooler longer than two hours."
If air temperatures are above 90 degrees Farhenheit, Horn remarked, food cannot be kept unrefrigerated for more than one hour.
When keeping hot foods hot, Horn advises residents keep them at 140 degrees Fahrenheit or above, whereas cold foods need to be kept at 40 degrees or below.
"Bacteria can grow quickly at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit," she explained. "That's why we stress the importance of not just 'warming' foods, but actually keeping them hot."
Horn offered the following tips for keeping food safe and free from bacteria when eating takeout, planning a party, picnic or even tailgate meal:
--A preheated oven, chafing dishes, preheated warming trays or even slow cookers can be used to keep hot foods hot. Use a food thermometer to make certain the food is being kept at 140 degrees Fahrenheit. (However, the USDA does not recommend reheating cold foods in slow cookers and chafing dishes.)
--Be careful of leftovers taken home from a restaurant. If you are not going straight home after you eat, you may want to re-consider keeping your leftovers. They need to be refrigerated within two hours of when they were "served" to you, an hour if the outside temperature is above 90 degrees F.
--Refrigerate or freeze leftovers in shallow containers. Also be sure that the food is covered tightly.
--Be especially careful if your take-out food or leftovers include eggs, poultry and other meats, mayonnaise or dairy products. Foods that can be left out without following the two-hour rule include whole fruits like apples, cookies, crackers or bread or other foods that you do not ordinarily refrigerate.
--Always cut large portions of roast, ham, turkey or chicken into smaller portions before refrigerating. If you don't, then the meat cannot cool fast enough to prevent bacteria forming.
--Keep most foods in the refrigerator for no longer than three to five days, and only four days for cooked meat. When freezing, most items can only stay in the freezer for two to six months (one to two months for pizza or luncheon meats). Even though foods kept in your freezer for times longer than these might still be okay to eat, they often become dried out and lose much of their taste.
--When reheating foods, make certain you use oven temperatures no lower than 325 degrees Fahrenheit and reheat sauces, soups and gravy to a boil. Meat and poultry must be reheated to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees.