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Safety Tips for Pre-packaged Meals and Home-delivered Food

Home-delivered food is the ultimate convenience. Pre-made or individually packaged meals delivered to the door are common in homes across the United States. Food safety practices are essential, regardless of whether the food is coming from social organizations, senior assistance groups, or established mail/online order companies. According to, “Hot or cold ready-prepared meals are perishable and can cause illness when mishandled. Proper handling is essential to ensure the food is safe to eat.”

Reputable food delivery services and retail markets are regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration and are required to comply with Current Good Manufacturing Practices. So far, the mail order industry has had good safety records. It is important for organizations participating in mail order food services to develop pre-delivery checklists to ensure that, upon delivery, perishable foods are safe for consumption.

These guidelines are especially important when dealing with proteins, because if not stored in proper temperatures, they may cause serious food-borne illnesses.

The US Department of Agriculture recommends the following food safety tips for consumers who order perishable foods:
  • Make sure the company sends perishable items packed with a cold source. The items should also be packed in foam or heavy corrugated cardboard.
  • The food should be delivered as quickly as possible—ideally, overnight. The perishable items and the outer package should be labeled "Keep Refrigerated."
  • When you receive food items marked "Keep Refrigerated," open the items immediately to check their temperature. The food should arrive frozen or partially frozen with ice crystals still visible or at least refrigerator cold—below 40 °F as measured with a food thermometer.
  • Even if a product is smoked, cured, vacuum-packed, and/or fully cooked, it still is a perishable product and must be kept cold. If perishable food arrives warm—above 40 °F as measured with a food thermometer—notify the company. Do not consume the food. Do not even taste suspect food.
Consumers who understand how food-borne illnesses occur can prevent illnesses from such bacteria as Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, and Campylobacter.

According to, "Bacteria grows most rapidly in the range of temperatures between 40°F and 140°F, doubling in numbers in as little as 20 minutes." For this reason, it is important to dispose of any perishable food item that is left for more than two hours at room temperature . "If temperatures are above 90°F, perishable foods should not be left out longer than one hour." if they are, then they should be disposed of, as well.

Delivered meals should be refrigerated if they will not be eaten immediately. Unless foods that are delivered cold will be eaten within two hours upon delivery, they must be refrigerated. 

Cooked meat or poultry can be stored at temperatures up to 40°F for up to 4 days and up to 6 months if frozen at 0°F or below. Foods like pizza, luncheon meats, egg, tuna, or macaroni salad will be safe to eat for up to 5 days in the refrigerator and up to 2 months in the freezer at the temperatures indicated above.

Home-delivered meals, whether refrigerated or delivered cold, should be reheated to at least 165°F. When heating food at that temperature in the microwave, covering and rotating the container is recommended in order to avoid "cold spots" that can harbor bacteria.

Proper handling of hot or cold ready-prepared meals is essential to ensure food is free from disease-causing bacteria and safe to eat.
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