Safe Take-Out Foods

 

Americans are buying pre­cooked, ready-to-eat foods and "take-out" restaurant foods in record numbers. Although much of the preparation has been done for you, it is important that you know how to keep these foods safe until you eat them. (Persons at high risk for foodborne illness should check with their doctor before eating ready-to-eat foods from the deli.) 

 

FOR PREPARED OR TAKE-OUT FOODS (SALADS, PRE-CUT VEGETABLES) TO BE SERVED COLD:

  • Purchase only if the package is completely undamaged — no tears, holes or open corners.
  • Look for and follow "sell-by" or "use-by" dates on packaged foods.
  • Salads from a deli or other refrigerated case should look fresh, not dried out, and should feel cold to the touch. They should be stored separately from meat and poultry items. Observe the cleanliness of the counters and equipment in the deli/take out restaurant and the behavior of the food handling/preparing staff. If good sanitation practices are not being followed, you may want to purchase your precooked food elsewhere.
  • All ready-to-eat refrigerated foods should feel cold to the touch.
  • If you are not eating the food right away, get it home and into the refrigerator quickly.
  • Pre-made or deli salads, kept refriger­ated, may be kept for up to two days. Prepared green salad mixes (no dressing) and pre-cut vegetables may last up to five to seven days.

FOR PRECOOKED FOODS THAT ARE REFRIGERATED, LABELED "HEAT AND EAT":

  • Buy ready-to-heat refrigerated foods only if they are actually in a refrigerated case and feel cold to the touch.
  • Never purchase unpackaged pre­cooked foods from a deli case where other foods are touching meat or poultry items.
  • Observe the cleanliness of the counters and equipment in the deli and the behavior of the deli/take out restaurant staff. If good sanitation practices are not being followed, you may want to purchase your precooked food elsewhere.
  • Take the foods home and refrigerate until ready to heat. Observe "use-by" dates or use within two days of purchase.
  • Heat to at least 165°F, or until VERY HOT and steaming, before eating.  It is best to check temperatures with a cooking thermometer to be sure.
  • Do not reuse prepared foods once you have reheated them. Discard any leftovers.

TAKE-OUT" FOODS THAT ARE HOT WHEN YOU RECEIVE THEM:

  • Be especially careful with meat, poultry, seafood and dishes that contain milk, cream, cheese or eggs.
  • Make sure hot foods are still hot when you pick them up. If not, heat to 165°F or until VERY HOT before eating. It is best to check temperatures with a cooking thermometer to be sure.
  • If the food is still hot, hold in an oven, maintaining a food temper­ature of at least 135°F until eating.
  • If you cannot eat the food within two hours of purchase, refrigerate or freeze the food. If refrigerated, eat within two days, reheating to at least 165 °F. If frozen, reheat from frozen to at least 165°F. Discard any leftovers.
  • If you take food home in a "doggie bag" refrigerate it immediately. Eat it within 48 hours by reheating food rapidly to an internal temperature of 165°F.
  • Do not keep leftovers of take-out foods that have been reheated to 165°F. These should be thrown out.
  • Foods should not be reheated more than once.

Want to read more?

Safe handling of take-out foods fact sheet

Partnership for Food Safety Education Take-Out Sanity Fact Sheet