How quickly non-frozen ready-to-eat foods should be consumed?

In this article, we are going to answer how quickly non-frozen ready-to-eat foods should be consumed, what is ready to eat foods, what is the date marking in non-frozen ready-to-eat food, what is the risk of eating non-frozen ready-to-eat food after the date marked in the package, can I freeze ready-to-eat food and what non-frozen ready to eat foods do not need a date marking. 

How quickly non-frozen ready-to-eat foods should be consumed?

Non-frozen ready-to-eat foods should be consumed 7 days after the preparation date. Non-frozen ready-to-eat food is marked with the preparation date so that the consumer knows when it is best to be consumed. 

The general recommendation for non-frozen ready-to-eat foods is to be consumed between 7 days after the preparation date but you need to be aware that after 24 hours of preparation, if not stored correctly, there is a high risk of food poisoning. High perishable food needs to be consumed before 7 days. 

Non-frozen ready-to-eat foods have to be stored in a refrigerator with the temperature set at 40 F or below with no temperature fluctuations and less than 60% of humidity. 

What are ready-to-eat foods?

Ready-to-eat foods or RTE are foods or products that are pre-cleaned, precooked, packaged, and sold ready to consume without more preparation or cooking. RTE just needs to be heated when you are ready to eat them but is not necessary. 

According to the FDA, ready-to-eat foods have to be sold in an edible form without any additional preparation steps to achieve food safety. Some examples of non-frozen ready-to-eat food include

  • Salads
  • Cooked meals
  • Smoked fish
  • Desserts by slice
  • Sandwiches
  • Or any food that is sold ready to eat and does not need any further preparation.

What is the date marking in non-frozen ready-to-eat food?

Date marking is a date used to ensure food safety for consumers. It is required by the FDA to prevent and reduce the risk of food poisoning. Date marking lets the consumer know when the product was prepared and when it is best to be consumed. 

According to the FDA, non-frozen ready-to-eat food held in an establishment for more than 24 hours has to be marked with the preparation date and must be discarded if not consumed 7 calendar days after the preparation date. 

What is the risk of eating non-frozen ready-to-eat food after the date marked in the package?

The major risk of eating RTE or ready-to-eat food is foodborne illnesses. Common foodborne pathogens found in RTE include

  • Listeria Monocytogenes
  • Escherichia Coli
  • Salmonella spp.

Listeria monocytogenes are the major concern when it comes to RTE. This microorganism can grow at temperatures between 1 C and 45 C. The most common ingredients that can be contaminated with L. monocytogenes include 

  • Soft
  • Cheese
  • Milk
  • Pates
  • Ice cream
  • Coleslaw
  • Ready-to-eat meat, ready-to-eat poultry, and ready-to-eat poultry subproducts
  • Smoked and processed seafood. 

L. monocytogenes is a life-threatening microorganism, especially for compromised immune system patients, pregnant women, young children, and the elderly. Some common symptoms of listeriosis caused by L. monocytogenes include

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever

It is very important to store correctly RTE at 4 C or below to prevent L. monocytogenes from growing. If RTE does not seem normal, smells weird, or has any signs of mold, do not eat it even if the 7 days calendar hasn’t passed since the preparation date. 

Follow this link for how to play it safe with RTE foods

Can I freeze ready-to-eat food?

Yes, you can freeze ready-to-eat food that is not intended to be frozen. Non-frozen ready-to-eat food has to be frozen as close to the preparation date as possible. When packaged or wrapped correctly, ready-to-eat food can last up to 3 to 6 months in the fridge in good conditions.

Frozen food will never go bad but it can change in flavor and texture if it has been frozen for too long. 

What non-frozen ready-to-eat foods do not need a date marking?

Food that is safe to eat and has a low risk of food poisoning does not need date making. Some non-frozen ready-to-eat food that does not need a date marking include:

  • Cured meats in cellulose such as salami and bologna. 
  • Hard cheese like cheddar, gruyere, or parmesan.
  • Semi-soft cheese that has been pasteurized.
  • Comercial dressings such as mayonnaise. Homemade dressing or dressing made in the store must be marked. 

Conclusion

This article answered how quickly must non-frozen ready-to-eat foods be consumed, what is ready to eat foods, what is the date marked in non-frozen ready-to-eat food, and what is the risk of eating non-frozen ready-to-eat food after the date marked in the package, can I freeze ready-to-eat food and what non-frozen ready to eat foods do not need a date marking. 

Citation

​​https://doh.sd.gov/documents/Food/DateMarking.pdf

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/food-science/ready-to-eat-food

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