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Safe Handling of Take-Home Foods
food in containers on a fridge with the word leftovers on them

By Jean Ince , Howard County Extension Agent - Staff Chair

Can't eat all your food at your favorite restaurant and want to take the rest home? Have you given much thought to keeping the food safe on your journey home?

 Chances are you have been to your favorite restaurant, ordered your favorite meal and then realize you can’t eat it all. Or maybe you planned all along to only eat half of the meal and take the rest home. Have you given much thought to keeping the food safe on your journey home? With the popularity of take-home foods, many people are faced with the challenge of keeping the food safe.

The first rule to take-home foods, and basic food safety, is to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.

Perishable foods can cause illness. Proper handling of food and leftovers is essential to ensure the food is safe for you to eat.

Bacteria grow rapidly at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees. To keep hot foods hot, they should be stored at 140 degrees or hotter. Cold foods must be kept at 40 degrees or below. If you can’t make it home from the restaurant within two hours, you will need to discard the food. Foods such as meat, poultry, eggs, and casseroles, left at room temperature longer than 2 hours; or 1 hour if the outside temperature is above 90 degrees must be discarded.

If you are not eating the food immediately, follow these guidelines to make sure the food remains safe for you to eat at a later time:

Hot Take-Out Foods –Once the food is cooked it should be held hot at an internal temperature of 140 degrees or above. Just keeping food warm is not safe. Use a food thermometer to monitor the internal temperature of the food.

Cold/Refrigerated Take-Out Foods- Refrigerate perishable foods as soon as possible - always with 2 hour of purchase. Keep foods cold on the buffet table by nesting serving dishes of food in bowls of ice. When using take-out foods for an outdoor event use a cooler with ice to keep the foods cold. The cooler should be packed with plenty of ice or frozen gel packs. Keep the cooler in the shade.

The 2 hour rule applies here too!

If food has been left out of refrigeration for longer than two hours, it should be discarded. One hour if the outside temperature is above 90 degrees.

Let’s say you have followed all the rules and made it home in time to put the food in the refrigerator for later. How long will it last?

  • Most foods will last in storage at 40 degrees or below for 3-5 days.
  • If it is stored in the freezer, I will last 1 to 2 months.

To thaw frozen take-out food, place the item on a tray in the refrigerator. Allow about 24 hours for every 5 pounds. Once thawed, you will need to reheat it to at least 165 degrees. Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature.

Other guidelines to follow in reheating are:

-          Sauces, soups and gravy must be brought to a boil

-          Never set the oven temperature below 325 degrees

-          Reheating in a crockpot is not recommended

-          When reheating in a microwave oven, cover and rotate the food for even heating. Always allow standing time before eating

It is possible to enjoy that scrumptious meal from the restaurant a second time. Follow food safety rules and keep in mind that when in doubt, throw it out!

For more information on food safety and keeping foods safe to eat, contact the Howard County Cooperative Extension Service at 870-845-7517. You may also visit our office located on the second floor of the courthouse.

Recipe of the Week

Tomatoes are plentiful in several gardens. Here is a recipe from Ann Westfall on Salsa. She says, and her family agrees, it is the best salsa recipe ever!

Make your own jars of salsa

  • 16 cups tomatoes (1 gallon), washed, peeled and chopped
  • 4 medium onions, chopped
  • 4 green bell peppers, chopped (about 3 cups)
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 5 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped fine
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 cups vinegar (at least 5% acid)
  • 1/3 cup salt
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon alum
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  1.  To remove skins from tomatoes, bring a large pot of water to a boil.
  2. Wash and cut a small x in the bottom of each tomato.
  3. Dip in hot boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds or until skins split.
  4. Dip immediately in cold, ice water to slip skins off easily. Core and chop tomatoes.    
  5. Wear food safe gloves to seed and finely chop jalapenos.
  6. Combine all ingredients in a large pot.
  7. Bring to a boil, turn heat down and cook slowly for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  8. Fill hot salsa into hot jars, leaving ½-inch headspace.
  9. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if needed.
  10. Wipe rims of jars with a dampened clean paper towel.
  11. Adjust lids.
  12. Process in a Boiling Water Bath for 15 minutes for pints.

Media Contact: Jean Ince
County Extension Agent - Staff Chair
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
421 N. Main St, Nashville AR 71852
(870) 845-7517