Stay healthy by following these take-out safety tips

These take-out and left-over tips can keep you and your family safe from harmful bacteria.

Do you watch Big Bang Theory? Have you ever noticed how often the characters eat take-out foods? Monday it’s Thai; Tuesday it’s burgers; Thursday it’s pizza and Friday it’s Chinese. Sometimes there’s a surprise! As a food safety educator, I often wonder what they are doing to keep themselves safe from the risk of food poisoning.

When we purchase take-out food, it should be eaten within two hours if kept in a vehicle or at room temperature. If your home or your vehicle is over 90 degrees Fahrenheit, you only have an hour to consume or to get the food into a heating or cooling unit. Cold foods should be kept at 40 F or below and hot foods at 140 F or above. Michigan State University Extension recommends this rule is for foods that are delivered to your home also.

The two-hour rule is an important part of food safety in homes. Bacteria need both time and temperature to grow to dangerous levels. Room temperature isn’t bad until you also give enough time for bacterial growth. Put the pizza away when you’re finished eating. Any leftover take-out should be put into food grade containers and refrigerated. If you have eaten out of the cardboard box the food came in, it could be contaminated, and anyway, tight-fitting containers keep the air from getting at the food, which keeps the quality.

There are some precautions for handling frozen meals as well. When thawing meals to reheat, keep them in the refrigerator. Once thawed, the item should be eaten within three to four days. If the meals have already been cooked, they can be eaten cold or reheated. If you need to cook the meal, it can be put into the oven without thawing, as part of the cooking process.

When reheating already cooked meals, always heat to an internal temperature of 165 F. Set your oven to no lower than 325 F. Do NOT reheat dishes in a crock pot, as it will stay in the temperature danger zone for too long. If using a microwave, cover and rotate the food – microwaves have uneven heating patterns and this lets the food heat more evenly. Allow the item to stand for a couple minutes before you check the temperature. Gravies, soups and sauces should be reheated to boiling.

I often wonder while watching the crew at BBT if they follow food safety guidelines. I do hope so. If you are interested in more information on keeping your family safe from foodborne illnesses, contact your local MSU Extension office.

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