I often bring home food from restaurants. Is it OK to leave food in the takeout containers?

Answers from Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D.

It's probably safe to leave food in takeout containers. The key is to store food in a shallow container that can be sealed when it's cooled. These practices help keep bacteria out.

Here's another safety tip: Don't let prepared food sit out — in your car or on the counter — for more than two hours. If you’re someplace hot (more than 90 F or 32 C) reduce that time to one hour. Bacteria can grow rapidly in food that's unrefrigerated. And some bacteria make a poison or toxin that can make you ill, hence the term "food poisoning."

If you don't plan on eating takeout food immediately, you have two choices. You can keep it hot in a preheated oven at an internal temperature of 140 F (60 C) or higher. Or you can divide food into smaller portions, place in shallow containers and refrigerate. Plan to reheat the food to a temperature of 165 F (74 C) just before serving.

Sept. 23, 2015 See more Expert Answers