Eating Safely

Eating Out, Bringing In

Fewer Home Cooked Meals

In the past, many people grocery shopped nearly every day and cooked their own food at home. Eating in restaurants was saved for special occasions. But times have changed. Today, many older adults find it easier and more convenient to eat out at a restaurant, or get ready-to-eat foods from a deli, take-out counter, or grocery store.

Eating out can be an enjoyable experience, offering a way to socialize with friends or family, eat delicious food, and be free of cooking duties for a while. But wherever you choose to eat out -- at a diner, a restaurant, or a senior center -- there are things you can do to make sure the food you eat is safe.

(Watch the video to learn more about eating out safely. To enlarge the video, click the brackets in the lower right-hand corner. To reduce the video, press the Escape (Esc) button on your keyboard.)

Check for Cleanliness

When you go out to eat, check out the eating establishment to see how clean it is. Are the dishes clean? Are the floors swept? Are the bathrooms sanitary? If not, you may be better off finding somewhere else to eat. If the dining room is dirty, the kitchen may be too. A dirty kitchen may lead to unsafe food.

Learn how to eat safely when eating foods prepared outdoors from "Food Safety at Festivals and Fairs". (From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Order Your Food Thoroughly Cooked

When you eat out, always order your food thoroughly cooked. If you order food containing meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs, make sure these foods are thoroughly cooked. Don't hesitate to ask your food server how the food is prepared before placing your order. If the server is not sure or does not know, ask to speak with the chef to make sure these foods will be not be served raw or undercooked.

Take a good look at your food when it is served to you. If you ordered a hot meal, make sure it's served to you hot and steaming. If it's not hot enough, or if it just doesn't look right to you, send it back.

Avoid Certain Foods

When eating out, you should steer clear of the same foods that you avoid at home. Avoid eating

  • raw or undercooked meat or poultry
  • any raw or undercooked fish, or shellfish, or food containing raw or undercooked seafood e.g., sashimi,found in some sushi or ceviche
  • refrigerated smoked seafood
  • unpasteurized, refrigerated pâtés or meat spreads
  • unpasteurized (raw) dairy products, and juices. Some soft cheeses such as feta, queso blanco, queso fresco, Brie, and Camembert are made with unpasteurized milk
  • raw or partially cooked eggs and foods commonly made with raw eggs such as raw cookie dough and cake batter, eggnog, and Caesar salad dressing
  • unwashed fresh vegetables, including lettuce/salads
  • hot dogs and luncheon meats, unless they are reheated until steaming hot or 165 degrees Fahrenheit
  • uncooked sprouts, such as bean, alfalfa, clover, or radish sprouts.
  • ready-to-eat meat or seafood salads.

See these suggestions for healthy restaurant meals.

Handle Ready-To-Eat Meals Properly

Today, you have lots of choices if you prefer not to cook but still wish to eat at home. There are convenience foods, hot and cold foods available from supermarket delis, and delivered meals from restaurants or from programs like Meals on Wheels. But whether hot or cold, these ready-to-eat meals are perishable and can cause illness if you don't handle them properly.

The 2-Hour Rule

Harmful bacteria can multiply in the “Danger Zone”(between 40 and 140°F). So remember the 2-hour rule: discard any perishable foods left at room temperature longer than 2 hours. This means you should never let perishable items, prepared foods, or leftovers sit at room temperature more than two hours before putting them in the refrigerator or freezer. (When temperatures are above 90°F, discard food after 1 hour)

If you ask for a doggie bag, make sure to refrigerate your leftovers within two hours of receiving the food, and within one hour if air temperature is 90 degrees Fahrenheit or above. If you will not be getting home soon enough, put the food in a cooler with ice or freezer gel packs to keep it cold. If this is not possible, it is better to leave the leftovers at the restaurant.

Keep Hot Foods Hot

Whether you buy hot food or have it delivered, you should keep it hot and eat it within 2 hours of receiving it. Just keeping it warm is not good enough because harmful bacteria can grow rapidly in the "Danger Zone."

If you don't plan to eat the food within two hours of receiving it, keep it hot, at a temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit or above. You may use a preheated oven, chafing dishes, warming trays, or slow cookers. Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the food. If you are eating the food much later, divide it into small portions, place it in shallow containers, and refrigerate or freeze it.

Keep Cold Foods Cold

Cold foods that you buy or have delivered should be kept cold, at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Refrigerate cold food within two hours of receiving it, or within 1 hour if temperatures are 90 degrees Fahrenheit or above.

If You Reheat Your Meal

If you want to reheat your meal -- whether you bought it hot and then refrigerated it or bought it cold -- you should heat it to 165 degrees Fahrenheit until it is hot and steaming. When reheating food in the microwave oven, cover and rotate the food for even heating. You should also stir the food to make sure that all parts are fully heated. Allow the food to stand a short while before checking the internal temperature with a food thermometer.

When to Toss Food

Don't hesitate to get rid of food that is no longer safe. Throw away any perishable food that is left at room temperature for more than two hours. Don't keep refrigerated leftovers more than 3 to 4 days. Even if the food looks and smells fine, it may not be safe to eat after that time. When in doubt, throw it out.