Cupid is Coming! Tips for a Romantic—and Safe—Dinner
By Kate Levinson, MPH, MA, Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases, CDC
After “flowers or chocolate” (hint: both!), the next big Valentine’s Day question isn’t whether to order the heart-shaped pizza (hint: yes!)—it’s whether to go out to a cozy neighborhood restaurant or cuddle up on the couch and eat takeout. No matter where you dine, make sure you celebrate love with a safe meal.
People in the U.S. do a lot of eating out, on Valentine’s Day and the other 364 days of the year. According to the National Restaurant Association, 49 cents of every dollar spent on food was predicted to be spent at restaurants in 2011. Most diners do have a safe meal. However, more than half—59%—of the 13,405 outbreaks of foodborne illness reported in the U.S. between 1998 and 2008 involved food prepared in a restaurant or deli setting, according to CDC.
So whether you’re reserving a corner table at the local hotspot or grabbing takeout on your way home this February 14, make sure to keep you and your valentine safe.
Table for Two
All restaurants are required to follow food safety guidelines set by state and local health departments—but you can also follow these simple steps to keep your food safe.
- When you get to a restaurant, look at how clean things are before you even sit down. Are the glasses, silverware, napkins, and tablecloths clean? Is the floor free of bits of food and debris? If not, consider eating elsewhere. If available, check the results of the restaurant’s latest health inspection.
- Always order your food cooked thoroughly. Remember that foods like meat, poultry, fish, and eggs need to be cooked thoroughly to kill harmful bacteria that may be present. When you're served a hot meal, make sure it's served to you piping hot and thoroughly cooked. If it's not, send it back.
- Don't eat undercooked or raw foods, such as raw or undercooked eggs. Undercooked or raw eggs can be a hidden hazard in some foods like Caesar salad, custards, and some sauces. If these foods are made with commercially pasteurized eggs they are safe, but if you are unsure about the ingredients in a particular dish, ask before ordering it.
- Not going to finish that? Get that doggie bag in the fridge—fast. If you will not be arriving home within 2 hours of being served (1 hour if temperatures are above 90°F), it is safer to leave the leftovers at the restaurant. Also, remember that the inside of a car can get very warm so any food left inside may be affected. Bacteria grow rapidly in temperatures above 40°F, so it is always safer to go directly home after a meal and put your leftovers in the refrigerator.
A Quiet Night In
Whether you’re picking up food to eat at home or having food delivered, do the following to keep your food safe.
- Keep HOT Food HOT! Once food is cooked it should be held hot at an internal temperature of 140°F or above. Just keeping food warm (between 40°F and 140°F) is not safe. Use a food thermometer to monitor the internal temperature of the food. A preheated oven, chafing dishes, preheated warming trays, or slow cookers may be used.
- Keep COLD Food COLD! Cold foods must be kept at 40°F or below.
- Follow the Two-hour rule. Throw away all perishable foods such as meat, poultry, eggs, and casseroles that have been left at room temperature longer than 2 hours (1 hour in temperatures above 90°F).
- Save it for later—safely. If you plan to eat at a later time, take-out or delivered food should be divided into smaller portions or pieces, placed in shallow containers, and refrigerated.
The Celebration Continues…with Leftovers!
If your romantic dinner is just too big to finish, go ahead and put it in the fridge—but eat it soon, within three to four days. Consult this chart for storage times for the refrigerator and freezer.