Keeping Convenience Foods Safe

Reviewed by Sarah Klemm, RDN, CD, LDN
canned foods

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In today’s busy world, not everyone has time to prepare a meal from scratch. Convenience foods, such as canned vegetables, frozen meals and items from the deli bar, offer a quick and easy way to help put together a meal when time is short.

Although these foods are convenient, there are still some food safety tips to keep in mind when purchasing and storing these items.

Deli Meats

  • Use deli meats purchased from the counter within three to five days of purchasing. Pre-packaged deli meats may last longer when they’re sealed but should also be consumed within three to five days after opening.
  • At-risk groups, including pregnant women, older adults, babies and people with weakened immune systems, should consult their medical practitioners for advice on consuming deli meats.
  • For best quality and to reduce the risk of foodborne illness, always reheat hot dogs before eating.

Pre-Prepared Foods

  • If eating from a salad bar, go early or ask for fresh batches of the items.
  • At the store, check to make sure containers are refrigerated or well-packed in ice.
  • Refrigerate items such as egg salad, macaroni salad and potato salad right away. Perishable foods should be refrigerated below 40°F within two hours, or just one hour if the temperature is above 90°F.
  • Reheat precooked foods, such as stuffed chicken breasts and pre-roasted chickens, to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F, and eat them the same day you purchase them.

Canned Foods

  • Avoid buying canned goods that are bulging, leaking or dented.
  • Throw away any canned goods in your pantry with similar signs of bulging, denting or leaking.
  • Store canned goods in a cool, dry place - not above the oven or under the sink.
  • Clean the tops of cans before opening them. This helps prevent dust and bacteria that may be on the lid from coming into contact with the food.
  • As a general rule, unopened canned goods with a high acid content, such as tomatoes and pineapple, may be kept safely for 12 to 18 months; whereas low-acid canned foods, including canned meats, fish, and most vegetables will keep two to five years if the cans are still in good condition and stored in a cool, dry place.

Frozen Foods

  • Choose frozen foods, such as frozen dinners or vegetables, from the back of the freezer case; the items in the back usually remain the coldest.
  • Keep frozen foods tightly wrapped. Label fresh foods with their contents and the date they’re being frozen.
  • Store frozen foods at or below 0°F.

Dried or Cured Meats

  • Don't buy hanging, dried or cured meat if the package is open.
  • An unopened package of dried jerky will keep for up to one year without refrigeration.
  • Refrigerate dried or cured meats after opening.

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