Diet & Nutrition
Doggie-Bag Safety and Other Healthy Food Strategies
In the past, many people grocery shopped nearly every day and cooked their own food. But times have changed. Today, many older people 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.
But, according to the experts at NIH SeniorHealth, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, you should always make sure that the prepared food you eat is safe.
*When you go out to eat, check out the eating establishment to see how clean it is. The SeniorHealth experts say that dishes should be clean, floors swept, and restrooms sanitary. If the dining room is dirty, the kitchen may be, too, they say. And that can lead to gastric problems.
*Don’t hesitate to ask your food server how the food is prepared before placing your order, the SeniorHealth experts say. If the server is not sure or does not know, ask to speak with the chef to make sure that meat, poultry, seafood and eggs won’t be served raw or undercooked.
If you ordered a hot meal, it should be steaming. If it’s not, the experts say, or if it doesn’t look right, send it back.
A good rule, the SeniorHealth experts say, is to steer clear of the same foods you’d avoid at home. Specifically:
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
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.
If you ask for a doggie bag, make sure to refrigerate your leftovers within two hours, and within one hour if the temperature is 90 or above. If you won’t be getting home soon enough, put the food in a cooler with ice or freezer gel packs, the SeniorHealth experts say. If that’s not possible, leave the food at the restauran .
If you’re getting hot food delivered from Meals on Wheels or a restaurant, keep it at a temperature of at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit. The SeniorHealth experts say you can 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, they say, divide it into small portions, place it in shallow containers, and refrigerate or freeze it.
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, the SeniorHealth experts say. .
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. Additionally, the SeniorHealth experts say, allow the food to stand a short while before checking the internal temperature with a food thermometer.
Above all, they say, 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. When in doubt, throw it out.
For more information on health issues, visit http://nihseniorhealth.gov/index.html.