Prairie Fare: How to keep takeout and home-delivered food safe
When the food is delivered, the responsibility for safe handling becomes your responsibility.
“Why do you have baking pans in your car?” my friend asked me.
She was observing the small metal baking pans tucked in the back pockets of the front seats.
“I couldn’t find plastic trays that fit in the pockets,” I replied.
That really didn’t answer the question, did it?
We use the trays to avoid spilling food on the seats or floor of our car when we eat in the vehicle.
I looked for plastic trays but they were all too large to fit in the pockets. Small cookie sheets filled the bill.
During the early days of the pandemic, my husband and I picked up food to eat in our car or bring home. We put many miles on our vehicle during the early months of the pandemic.
We liked to see some other scenery outside of our home. While my husband drove, I arranged the food in their wrappers on our trays.
We found a spot with a small herd of deer, and we visited them regularly. Sometimes the deer walked right up to our parked vehicle.
No, the deer didn’t get to sit in the backseat and enjoy a snack on a tray. Our car is too small for that.
Most of us had some options when many dine-in restaurants closed during the early pandemic. We could have opted for takeout, meal delivery, grocery delivery or cook-it-yourself meal kits mailed directly to our address.
When the pandemic began, most restaurants closed for a while. Some restaurants only allowed takeout and others had drive-thru windows. Unfortunately, some restaurants closed permanently due to loss of revenue and staffing challenges.
According to the National Restaurant Association, the restaurant industry lost $280 billion in sales during the first 13 months of the pandemic. Millions of workers lost their jobs either temporarily or permanently. Others did not return to food service work.
Life has shifted in many ways during the past nearly two years, including how we obtain our food. Fortunately, COVID-19 is not spread through food, according to the Food and Drug Administration. As we all probably know, the virus primarily spreads through tiny droplets in the air through close contact with people.
Most of us enjoy eating food prepared outside of our home, at least on occasion, and we need to follow safe food-handling recommendations. The Partnership for Food Safety Education or PFSE (at www.fightbac.org ) recently launched a national campaign about food delivery called “Prep Yourself.”
I paraphrased some of the key messages from the new PFSE campaign for all of us to consider during food delivery. Most of these tips would directly apply to food pick-up too.
- Before ordering, ask questions. What are the company’s safety standards? How do they respond if the product is delivered at an unsafe temperature or if it appears that tampering has taken place?
- Be sure that someone is home when the food is delivered so the food can be stored properly in the refrigerator. If no one will be home, be sure to establish a safe place that is cool, shaded and protected from pests. Be sure to inform the restaurant when you order.
- When the food is delivered, the responsibility for safe handling becomes your responsibility. Look for stickers on perishable foods that say “Keep refrigerated” or “Keep frozen” and then follow the recommendations.
- Handle the delivered food safely. If the food is fully cooked, serve it right away or hold it hot in an oven or preheated slow cooker. Cook raw foods or refrigerate or freeze as soon as possible. Be aware of the “danger zone” (40 F to 140 F). Food should be kept cold (below 40 F) or hot (above 140 F).
- Encourage family members and guests to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds before eating. Make available alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
My family enjoys food from around the world, whether cooked at home or from a restaurant. This week I am featuring a slow cooker carnita recipe typical of Mexican cuisine. It is courtesy of the PFSE and includes their food safety instructions. I added the nutrition information. By the way, “carnita” is the Spanish word for “little meats.”
Slow Cooker Chipotle Carnitas
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup lime juice (about 2 limes)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons oregano
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon cumin
2 to 3 individual chipotle peppers from a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
2 tablespoons of the adobo sauce from a can of chipotles in adobo
3 pounds skinless, boneless pork shoulder (excess fat trimmed)
1/4 cup orange juice (about 1 orange)
1 cup chicken broth, reduced sodium
2 bay leaves
Fresh cilantro, chopped (optional garnish)
Flour tortillas and/or corn tortillas
Wash hands with soap and water. Gently rub garlic and limes under cold running water. Place garlic, lime juice, oil, salt, black pepper, oregano, onion powder, cumin, peppers and adobo sauce in a small food processor or blender. Pulse until well combined and a paste is formed. Rub the pork shoulder with the chipotle paste, rubbing in thoroughly on all sides. Do not rinse raw poultry or meat under water. Wash hands with soap and water after handling raw pork. Gently rub orange under cold running water. Place orange juice, chicken broth, bay leaves and seasoned pork shoulder into a slow cooker. Cook for eight hours on low or four hours on high, until internal temperature reaches 145 F on a food thermometer. The pork should be so tender that meat falls apart easily. Remove pork from slow cooker and shred the meat using two forks, removing excess fat. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Heat oven to broil. Line one baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking oil. Place carnitas onto a baking sheet with half of the juices and broil until most of the pork looks golden, crisp and crusted, about 4 minutes. Remove from oven. Gently rinse cilantro, pat dry and chop. Garnish carnitas with chopped cilantro, if desired.
Makes eight servings. Each serving of the pork has 290 calories, 16 grams (g) fat, 34 g protein, 1 g carbohydrate, 0 g fiber and 690 milligrams sodium.
Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences. Follow her on Twitter @jgardenrobinson