Food is an important part of any celebration, and that is especially true when holidays arrive. Because the holidays can be hectic, convenience is key. When it comes to food, that includes ordering from catalogs, gourmet Web sites and television shopping channels as well as picking up prepared meals from the supermarket and taking advantage of home grocery delivery. If not properly handled, stored, and prepared, food products can harbor many different organisms that can cause food borne illnesses.
The most important safety precaution is to make sure you are ordering from a reputable company. If you are ordering perishable food, either make sure someone will be home to accept the delivery, or have the food sent to your workplace so you can immediately get it into the refrigerator. If you are sending food as a gift, let the recipient know that it is coming so someone will be there to receive it.
When ordering frozen foods, make sure they are properly packed with a cold source such as an ice pack or dry ice to maintain safe temperature. Perishable foods should be shipped via overnight delivery to make sure they stay cold. Frozen food should be stored at 0°F and thawed carefully either in a refrigerator or as part of the cooking process, not at room temperature. If perishable food arrives warm -- above 40°F as measured with a food thermometer, notify the company, and do not consume the food.
Ordering groceries online and having them delivered right to your door is a great time-saver. The most important detail here is to make sure you can retrieve the food in time to get it into proper storage while it is still at a safe temperature. Do not arrange food delivery on a day when you know you will be home later than usual, as perishable foods need to be kept at or below 40°F.
If you are ordering a holiday dinner from your local market or specialty store, the most important thing to check for is proper cooling and storage. Food should be rapidly cooled from 140°F to 70°F within the first two hours and from 70°F to 40°F or less within an additional four hours. One sign that food has not been properly cooled is excessive condensation on the lid.
Once you get your meal home, keep it refrigerated until you are ready to use it (and do not run errands all over town with the prepared dinner in the back seat). When reheating, food should rapidly be heated from refrigeration temperatures to 165°F within two hours.