Ready meals and food safety
If you buy convenience foods that need to be heated, remember to check the use by date, store the food in your fridge, check for damaged packaging and don’t reheat leftovers after cooking, advises safefood’s Dr Mairead McCann.
Preprepared convenience food – more commonly known as ready-meals – are meals found in chilled section of the supermarket that don’t need much preparation or cooking but do need some form of heating, like roast chicken dinner with vegetables or lasagne.
New research commissioned by safefood has found that people don’t always pay attention to the use-by dates and cooking instructions on the pack of ready-meals, creating potential food safety risks. To help people avoid getting sick, the researchers from Queens University Belfast highlighted three things that people need to be aware of when using these types of food product.
1. Always check the use-by date on ready-meals
The use-by date tells us when the food will become unsafe to eat, so we should always check it when buying food and before eating or cooking it.
Also the use by date is only accurate when the food is stored properly and the packaging is completed sealed. Cooked meats for example must be stored in your fridge at 5° Celsius or less. Always check the label for instructions around storing.
A food label will also tell you how long the food will stay safe after opening the packaging. Normally you should eat it with in 2 or 3 days.
Here’s more on use by dates
2. Store ready-meals in the fridge unless the pack says you can freeze them
Store prepared convenience foods in the fridge unless instructions are given for freezing. To be sure, always check instructions when you buy prepared convenience food.
3. Don’t reheat leftovers of ready meals
When you put a ready-meal in the oven you are reheating it rather than cooking it. As cooked food should only be reheated once, any leftovers cannot be reheated again. So unless the pack has specific instructions for reheating, leftover ready meals should be eaten cold or not at all.