Tips for safe food delivery during holidays
Holiday meals likely will look and feel different for families unable to gather this year.
To keep family members outside of your immediate household safe — especially if they are considered to be “high risk” (i.e., elderly or immunocompromised) — you can still safely spread holiday cheer by sending or bringing them meals.
It is important to know that mishandled food can cause people to get sick from bacteria like Salmonella or E. coli, so it’s essential to handle food and its leftovers carefully to ensure they are safe to consume upon delivery.
A variety of home-delivered groceries, meal-delivery services and meal kit subscription services are available and enable food to be safely transported to a family member by a store, manufacturer or delivery service.
Food delivered by these services needs to stay out of the temperature danger zone (40 F to 140 F) to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria, so, when ordering food, use the following advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to prevent foodborne illness when ordering food:
— Before ordering, inquire about food-safety practices by contacting the customer service department of the business being utilized, and be sure to ask how they deal with issues when a delivery is at an unsafe temperature.
— Arrange for deliveries to arrive when someone is home so the food can be quickly placed in refrigeration.
— If someone is not able to be home to tend to the delivery immediately, provide a cool, dry, safe place where the food should be kept until someone is available.
— If ordering for someone else, be sure to tell them the date and time of the expected delivery.
— Food should be transported in food-grade insulated packaging with frozen gel packs or dry ice to keep it cold during transport.
— Once cold food is delivered, examine the box and packaging, and check the temperature of the food with a food thermometer to verify that it is 40 F or below.
— Store perishable food items as instructed by the provider (e.g. “Keep Refrigerated” or “Keep Frozen” if the package contains perishable items) and store the food in a refrigerator or freezer as soon as possible.
— If sending someone a catered meal or meal kit, be sure that safe handling, preparation and cooking temperature instructions are provided with the meal or recipe.
— If the food was delivered above 40 F, dispose of the food and speak with the business or service provider about reimbursement — food can look, smell, and even taste OK, yet still be unsafe to consume.
Another meal delivery option is to create your own meal kit by purchasing pre-packaged food items, such as bagged salads, frozen entrees and desserts, and then safely delivering those food items to a loved one.
While transporting food from the store to its destination, be sure to keep the food out of the temperature danger zone (again, 40 F to 140 F), and keep cold foods at or below40 F and hot foods at or above 140 F.
To keep cold, perishable foods safe, place them in a cooler with ice or frozen gel packs during transport, and keep the cooler in the coldest part of the vehicle. Hot foods should be kept in an insulated thermal bag.
Once the food is delivered, advise the receiver to place cold food in the refrigerator.
A final option is to prepare food in your home and deliver some or all of it as leftovers. Follow good food safety practices in your home kitchen to prevent food safety risks. We can prevent foodborne illness by:
— Washing hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds or longer before and during food preparation, especially when switching from ready-to-eat items — foods which require no more preparation, washing or cooking — to raw foods like meat, poultry and seafood.
— Preventing cross-contamination by using separate cutting boards and utensils to prepare ready-to-eat and raw food items so bacteria are not transferred from one food to another.
— Cleaning and sanitizing equipment, utensils and work surfaces before and after use.
— Cooking and verifying the temperatures of meat: Whole cuts of pork, 145 F for 3 minutes; whole cuts of other meats, 145 F for 3 minutes, ground meat, 160 F; and poultry, 165 F.
— Holding hot food hot at or above 140 F.
— When transporting is not immediate, cool the prepared food quickly so it reaches refrigeration temperatures rapidly, which prevents bacteria growth.
— To make cooling more efficient, divide large amounts of food into smaller shallow containers (i.e., 2 inches or less), and cut meats into slices or smaller pieces.
— Leftovers should be covered, wrapped, or placed into storage containers prior to being placed in cold storage.
— Labeling the food with its contents, reheating instructions and storage instructions to consume within three to four days.
— When ready to consume leftovers, be sure to reheat the food to an internal temperature of at least 165 F and verify with a food thermometer.
When delivering these meals, transport cold food in a cooler with ice or gel packs and transport hot food in an insulated thermal bag.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, place the food on a porch or covered area and allow the recipient to pick up the food while following proper social distancing.
Use these food delivery tips to have a food-safe holiday season. Stay healthy and safe.