As kids, many of us became painfully aware of how improperly storing frozen foods, like our favorite popsicles, can cause the frozen delight to become a messy, sticky puddle. Although temperature abuse problems aren’t always as obvious as a puddle of popsicles, correctly receiving a food delivery is one of the most crucial parts of food safety.
When frozen food is not kept at the correct temperature, it can become a breeding ground for foodborne pathogens. Below are the answers to some of the most common questions food handlers may have about frozen deliveries.
Why does frozen food need to be kept frozen?
While freezing does not kill any pathogens, it does prevent them from growing. But when frozen food is allowed to thaw, germs are able to multiply, which can cause consumers to get sick.
Once the bacterial levels in food have reached dangerous levels, you can’t make it safe to eat by refreezing it. Not even cooking will make it safe. To decrease the risk of foodborne illness, frozen foods should be kept at 0° F (-18° C) — including while it’s being transported.
How can I tell if a frozen food delivery has been stored correctly?
First, order food from approved suppliers. This helps ensure your food has been delivered correctly and is safe for consumers.
Second, inspect food deliveries carefully. Remember, frozen food should be received frozen. If the food arrives partially or fully thawed, reject it.
Watch for these signs that food might have been stored incorrectly during transportation:
- Frozen food packaging has ice crystals. Ice crystals indicate that the food has warmed and then refrozen.
- Water in the bottom of packages or staining from water on packages. This can indicate that the food started to thaw during transportation.
- Discolored frozen meat. Changes in the color of meat mean that it has come into contact with air. If the meat also smells off or feels sticky or slimy, it’s probably gone bad.
- Frozen veggies that appear dull and less vibrant than usual. Vegetables’ color can become dull if they’re improperly packaged or stored
- Sticky or slimy food. This is a sign that the food has been stored incorrectly and could be dangerous for consumption.
- Food smells odd or rancid. The most obvious sign of food that has gone bad is an off or rancid odor.
Looking out for these signs can help prevent foodborne illness and keep consumers and employees safe.
What temperature should frozen food be upon delivery?
In addition to watching for the warning signs listed above, you should take the temperature of frozen foods before accepting a delivery. Frozen food should be received frozen, or at 0°F (-18°C).
How do I take the temperature of frozen food?
When taking the temperature of frozen food, the most important thing to remember is to not puncture the packaging of the food. Doing so can cause contamination, and make the food unfit to use.
If food packages are flat, place your thermometer between packages to take their temperature. With vacuum-packaged items, place the thermometer between items.
Should the temperature be recorded?
Recording the temperature of foods upon delivery can be important to protect your establishment. If you were being inspected due to a food safety issue, having a receiving temperature log can prove that you did due diligence to protect your consumers.
You are also within your rights to ask for temperature records from the delivery company or supplier if you suspect temperature abuse of a product. Most delivery companies require their drivers to record the temperature of the storage area at different times throughout the day.
What if the packaging shows signs of tampering?
If the packaging shows signs of tampering, the delivery should be rejected. These signs can include:
- Signs of pests
- Open or torn packaging
- Broken seals
When you’re vigilant about rejecting packaging that has been tampered with, you help protect your customers.
What if the “Best by” date has passed?
Any food whose “Best by” date has passed should be rejected. Although most products have best by dates that are far in the future, it’s important to check the dates to ensure they haven’t passed.
What if I need to reject a delivery?
If a food item doesn’t pass your inspection, set it aside from the items you are accepting. Inform the delivery person specifically what is wrong with the product.
Make sure to get an adjusted invoice or credit slip from the delivery person. For your own records, write a note about the incident on the invoice.
How long can frozen food be left out of the freezer?
Frozen food should be put in the freezer immediately after accepting the delivery. As soon as food starts to get warm and thaw, pathogens can begin to multiply, potentially making the food unsafe.
Keep in mind it’s just as important to store the food properly in your establishment as it is to make sure it is in an acceptable state upon delivery.
How long after delivery should a frozen food be used?
Look for “Best by” and “Sell by” dates to tell you how long frozen food can be safely used or displayed for sale. If the food expiration date passes, you need to throw it out.
When you receive food deliveries, put it away according to the first-in, first-out method (FIFO). Essentially, this means putting new food items behind the old ones on the freezer shelf. This helps you rotate foods through the freezer and makes it easier to use the oldest products first, before their expiration dates pass.
Receiving a frozen food delivery properly can be commonly overlooked, but it’s critical to ensuring safe food for your customers. For ideas on how to train your food workers to receive a delivery correctly, check out our Stand Up Training on Receiving a Frozen Food Delivery.
— Juli Shelley
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