Take-out Safety

Here are some guidelines from Iowa State University Extension to make sure the food you serve at your buffet, reception, or weekend get-together is safe.

Restaurants and supermarket delis follow important sanitation rules during preparation of food, so that consumers receive a safe and wholesome product.

Once that food is purchased or delivered, however, the responsibility for keeping it safe is yours. Take-out foods are perishable and can cause illness if handled improperly.

Here are some simple rules to follow:

Keep hot foods HOT and cold foods COLD (below 40°F or above 140°F).

  1. Arrange for pick-up or delivery of meals so you can eat the food almost immediately, when maximum quality and safety can be ensured.
  2. If you have to hold the food for any length of time, keep it HOT; that means the food must have an internal temperature above 140°F. Just keeping it warm doesn't ensure safety.

Usually this safe temperature can be achieved in a 200-degree oven, but remember, that's for keeping food HOT. When cooking meat, poultry, or other perishable food, never set the oven below 325°F. (A chafing dish or pre-heated slow cooker can also be used to keep food above 140°F.) Bacteria multiply fastest between temperatures of 40°F and 140°F; it's what we call the Danger Zone.

What if I pick up the food in the morning, but won't serve it until evening?

If you are eating much later, the food will taste better and be safer if you refrigerate it and reheat just before serving. Divide large quantities into shallow containers for quick cooling; cover loosely, and refrigerate immediately. Always reheat cooked foods or leftovers until they are hot and steaming (we recommend 160°F).

What about salads, deli meats, and foods that are purchased or delivered cold?

Remember to keep cold foods COLD (40°F or below).

The life of most deli meats and foods is short. Roast beef, chicken breast, and turkey have a shorter refrigerator life than processed meats or cold cuts.

Follow these simple steps to ensure safety:

  • Buy reasonable quantities
  • If food won't be served soon, refrigerate immediately
  • Properly wrap and freeze deli meats that won't be used within two to four days
  • If entertaining, set out small amounts at a time and replace with fresh platters (rather than adding fresh food to a dish that already has food on it).
  • Keep food cold on the buffet table by nesting dishes in bowls of ice.

REMEMBER most food poisoning bacteria can NOT be seen, smelled, or tasted. If in doubt, throw it out!