Should I eat it: meal delivery edition
October 13, 2014 3:10 PM   Subscribe

Food delivery company says their pre-made meals are good in the fridge for a week. This seems way too long--much longer than I would ever store homemade food. Should I trust my gut or do the professionals know something about food safety that I don't?

I have been using a food delivery service for a couple of months. For the first six weeks or so meals were arriving on Wednesday night (not frozen, they come packed in insulated bags with many ice packs that I return when receiving the next delivery, and they are then stored in the fridge). The use-by date was typically Sunday, making it four days after delivery. This seemed pretty reasonable--with food I cook at home I typically try to use or freeze it by three days after cooking, but I know some people are more lenient than this.

Then my delivery day was changed to Monday. I was surprised to notice that despite the change in delivery day, the use-by date remained Sunday! This means the food is being stored for about a week, since it probably has to be prepared at least a day before delivery. This seems unacceptable to me, and I am feeling a bit disgusted by the fact that I have probably been eating week-old food all along.

Am I wrong to be bothered by this? Does food prepared in a commercial setting differ from food prepared by home cooks in some way that would allow for the longer storage? The ingredients listed are just regular home-cooking type ingredients, so the food is definitely not loaded with preservatives (which would also be a problem, just a different one). I am hoping there is a reason this is ok because I love this food delivery company otherwise--it has really been helping me to eat healthier.

A few more details:
- The foods delivered include cooked entrees with meat and seafood, and raw foods such as salads
- They do not appear to have been frozen prior to shipment
- The cooler packaging seems to work well--they feel fridge temperature on arrival
- The heating instructions for cooked foods say to microwave for 3-4 min
- I have been eating things on the use-by date for weeks with no issue
posted by insoluble uncertainty to Food & Drink (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Probably air tight packaging, perhaps preservatives. If you like them, and you're not suffering any ill effects keep eating them. If you were on the fence, find something else.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:14 PM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

This seems way too long--much longer than I would ever store homemade food.

Then you and I are two different types of person, because I can and do store food, including cooked meat, in the fridge for up to a week. And I am not typing this from a hospital or the grave.

Plus, even if you think that's gross, this food is presumably vacuum-sealed. Extra safe!
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:16 PM on October 13, 2014 [19 favorites]

A week is totally standard for leftovers in the fridge, unless it's something very delicate. But if the salads look OK to eat a week later, why not?
posted by Sara C. at 3:17 PM on October 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

Probably not just air tight package, but nitrogen filled to avoid oxidation (normally referred to as "packaged under a protective atmosphere"). That's one harmless way to improve shelf life.
posted by ambrosen at 3:18 PM on October 13, 2014 [7 favorites]

I would have no problem eating week-old leftovers (and frequently do!) as long as the texture and smell are fine. Plus, you've been eating the food for months with no ill effects - so clearly it isn't hurting you. I see absolutely no reason not to continue eating it.
posted by insectosaurus at 3:22 PM on October 13, 2014 [4 favorites]

Is there any indication of when the food was made? Because it very well could be that the food has been made at the same time, and that the delivery is the only thing that has changed. If that is the case, then you've already been eating food that's a week old, with no ill effects.
posted by China Grover at 3:27 PM on October 13, 2014 [6 favorites]

I go grocery shopping once a week, on Saturday. We're eating week-old food on Friday a substantial percentage of the time. My husband has a compromised immune system and I have two young children, and none of us have ever experienced any ill effects.
posted by KathrynT at 3:30 PM on October 13, 2014 [4 favorites]

I think it's fine, but not so the seafood, eat that early in the week
posted by cacao at 3:37 PM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's fine, you're overreacting :) Food can last in the fridge quite a while, definitely at least a week, especially when pre-cooked.
posted by jpeacock at 3:44 PM on October 13, 2014

I agree with China Grover, this is exactly the same food you were eating before, just delivered a couple of days earlier
posted by missmagenta at 3:49 PM on October 13, 2014

Best answer: Does food prepared in a commercial setting differ from food prepared by home cooks in some way that would allow for the longer storage?

Yes, professional kitchens are different than home kitchens in terms of cleanliness and food safety, especially if they're good and reputable (i'm going to assume this is not some sketchy place, cause that's a whole different issue) . Industrial fridges cool food faster, professional kitchens get food that's fresher (no grocery store middle-man), and cleaning standards at any good kitchen are higher than just about anyone's home kitchen.

That said, home cooked food is almost always fine in the fridge for a week, especially if its not something delicate. You seem to be a little overly cautious IMO.

Also, China Grover is probably right, and you've probably been eating food that's this old anyways.

You're safe. Eat and be happy.
posted by DGStieber at 3:55 PM on October 13, 2014 [8 favorites]

Best answer: If they're practicing their other food handling methods as they should, it's fine. When I worked in a restaurant, health regulations were that cooked foods had to be labeled with the date cooked and thrown out after 7 days. If the food was cooked to the proper temperature, cooled promptly, and kept away from raw ingredients, they've addressed all of the major causes of foodbourne illnesses.
posted by TungstenChef at 3:58 PM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, a week-ish in the fridge for our homecooked food doesn't seem to do us any harm and we don't throw out much as a result. Professionally cooked food will be even safer.
posted by deadwax at 4:19 PM on October 13, 2014

I'll eat leftovers into their 2nd week of life in the fridge without concern. I admit I am particularly permissive about old food - as long as it looks OK and smells OK, I just reheat the hell out of it and eat it. This of course has nothing to do with any particular regulation or scientific standard, but I can testify that I rarely, almost never get food poisoning (maybe once every 2 years?). I am also generally a vegetarian so this rarely involves meat or seafood, but does include dairy.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 4:30 PM on October 13, 2014

If they changed the delivery date from Wednesday to Monday, but kept the expiration date the same, I am assuming they just improved their delivery methods and previously the food had been sitting there prepared an extra two days before it arrived to you on Wednesdays. In other words, is it possible you are just getting the food faster than you used to?
posted by AppleTurnover at 6:08 PM on October 13, 2014

I would have a hard time eating any prepared food over 3-4 days old. It *may* be considered safe but the quality & flavor diminish imo.
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 7:41 AM on October 14, 2014

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