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6 Food Safety Tips When Using Delivery Apps

Uber Eats, DoorDash and Instacart are convenient but still require safety precautions

food delivery app
LeoPatrizi / Getty Images

Ordering takeout or groceries delivered to your door is convenient, but older adults should be mindful of proper food safety practices to avoid getting sick from a foodborne illness.

“As we age, our immune system changes. When that happens, it makes it not as strong to fight against bacteria and certain illnesses,” said Meredith Carothers, a public affairs specialist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service. “Because there’s a possibility for a weakened immune system, getting a foodborne illness would potentially hit an older adult harder than a younger adult. It can be dangerous in that sense, because not knowing how hard it will them could lead to hospitalization or even death in more severe cases.”

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Carothers suggested these tips and recommendations to safely eat food delivered to your home.

1. Check the temperature of your food as soon as it arrives

Food should be delivered at a safe temperature to prevent bacterial growth. If it’s takeout, check whether the food is still warm. If it has been delivered from a grocery store, ensure that perishables have remained cold. If the food is not at the right temperature, do not eat it, and contact the restaurant or delivery service right away.

“As long as [grocery perishables] feel cool to the touch, or they’ve been delivered in a quick amount of time, that’s not a concern,” said Carothers. “If it’s takeout or leftovers, eat it, [and] get those leftovers in the fridge within a safe amount of time, keeping them for only about four days before you either finish or freeze them.”

Meat and poultry leftovers can be safely refrigerated at 40 degrees F. for up to four days. Eggs and lunch meat should be stored at 40 degrees F. for up to five days. Cooked meat and poultry may be kept in the freezer at 0 degrees F. or below for two to six months.

2. Delivery time matters

If you know that your food was prepared more than two hours before its arrival, you should contact the delivery company about the issue, even if it feels warm.

“If it’s been prepared for over two hours, that hits our two-hour rule and we wouldn’t recommend eating it,” said Carothers.

However, if the food is lukewarm after being prepared by the restaurant, and it took 20 to 30 minutes to reach your home, that is considered normal. The food can be reheated based on personal preference. If you aren’t going to eat the food upon its arrival, place it in the refrigerator right away.

3. Store takeout in airtight containers

It may be tempting to keep your takeout in the container it arrived in, but some containers, such as Styrofoam boxes, are not necessarily airtight and may negatively affect the quality of your food by drying it out. While it is safe to store the food in its original container, keep in mind that some containers, like Styrofoam or foil, cannot be reheated in the microwave.

4. Reheat your food to 165 degrees F.

When reheating in the microwave, place food on a microwave-safe plate. Food items should be spread evenly and stirred halfway through heating to avoid cold spots. Reheating in slow cookers isn’t recommended because food may be sitting too long in the “danger zone” for bacteria growth (40 to 140 degrees F.). Soups, sauces and gravies should be reheated until they begin to boil.

5. Look for signs of spoilage

Before eating any food from a delivery service, take a close look at it for signs of spoilage, such as mold or an off odor. If you notice any potential spoilage, do not eat the food, and contact the restaurant or delivery service.

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A word of caution: Never taste food to determine whether it’s safe to eat. When in doubt, throw it out.

6. Wash your hands

Always wash your hands before handling or consuming food, before and after handling raw food, or after being in contact with pets or with surfaces that could be dirty.

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