Keeping home-delivered foods safe

Safe storage of home-delivered foods can keep foodborne illness off your menu.

Bento box with rice and shrimp.

Home-delivered meals are getting more and more popular. One reason is, as our population ages, there is increased demand and need for home delivery of meals for those who are homebound. Additionally, as we grow older, our immune system becomes weaker; therefore, contracting a foodborne illness becomes easier. That's why extra care in preparation, delivery and storage should be given to meals for older adults.

Delivering Meals

There are many aspects to consider when keeping food safe, but washing hands properly is the first line of defense for all contact with food. Home-delivered food should be prepared in a licensed kitchen and delivered in a clean vehicle. It needs to be stored either in a cooler to keep cold foods cold, or in a hot thermal container to keep hot foods hot. Awareness of the temperature danger zone is paramount, and food should never spend more than two hours between the temperatures of 40 and 135 degrees Fahrenheit. Keeping food safe is not just the delivery person’s responsibility; it is everyone’s responsibility, including the recipient. A label containing directions for safe handling of the home-delivered food should be attached to the container. Once they have the food, recipients should check the temperature with a thermometer.

Receiving Home-Delivered Meals

If you are a recipient of home-delivered foods, enjoy your meal when it arrives. Do not to allow prepared food more than two hours without heat or refrigeration. As a recipient of home delivered meals, it is important to keep food out of the temperature danger zone (40 to 135 degrees). Any leftovers should be properly stored and reheated no more than four days after you received it.

If you do choose to store the food, use shallow food storage containers. Label and date each item so that it can be used within four days. Place all foods in the refrigerator in a single layer. If foods are stacked, it may take too long to cool, creating an environment that encourages bacterial growth. Go through your stored foods often and throw out anything that is outdated or showing signs of spoilage. If you know you will not be able to finish all of the delivered items, some foods may be able to be frozen right away for eating at a later date. If you are freezing food, make sure to use freezer containers that have a tight seal. Also, leave head space for expansion in the freezer and date and label all foods.

When it is time to eat, plan ahead and thaw foods in a refrigerator or a microwave, and never on the counter. Reheat foods to 165 degrees, stirring often to be sure the heat is evenly distributed. Check with a food thermometer to confirm it has reached a food safe temperature. This takes the guesswork out, ensuring that you are handling the food properly. Missing any of these steps can contribute to a foodborne illness.

To learn more about food safety, visit MSU Extension's Safe Food & Water website.

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