Can I eat a ready meal 4 days out of date?
This article will answer the following question: Can I eat a ready meal 4 days out of date? We will discuss the risks of eating a ready meal 4 days out of date and how to know if the meal is spoiled.
Can I eat a ready meal 4 days out of date?
Yes, it is possible to eat ready meals 4 days out of date when it comes to pouched sterilized shelf stable meals. These ready meals you can eat 4 days out of date because ready-to-eat meals are cooked meals packed in tri-laminate retort pouches (1) or similar packagings that are sealed after heat treatment, increasing the safety of the food (6) and are therefore considered stable for long periods (3) and bring a low risk to the consumer (2).
Ready meals contain normal food that is ready to heat and consume. Due to the processing, which involves high heat treatments that pasteurize or sterilize the food, when the package is kept unopened, these products have an increased shelf life (2,3).
In addition, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, a product can still be consumed if it was stored and handled correctly. Spoiled food is noticeable by changes in the texture, aroma, color and by other indications (5).
However, if you notice any alterations in the food, such as bad odor, development of mold or gas production, do not consume the food, as it can cause foodborne diseases.
Which ready meals you cannot eat 4 days out of date?
Ready meals that you should not eat are the take-out meals or delivery ready meals. These ready meals should be consumed immediately or stored in the refrigerator or freezer.
In addition, if take-out ready meals or delivery ready meals are kept more than 2 hours at room temperature at 70°F or 22°C (or 1 hour at 90°F or 30°C), they should be discarded, as they could bring a health risk when consumed.
Bacteria can grow rapidly in foods kept at temperatures above 40°F (4°C) and therefore, if you have leftovers from the take-out ready meals, you should refrigerate them or freeze them (8).
The shelf life of these meals vary depending on its ingredients. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the recommended shelf life of take-out ready meals is (4):
|Food||Shelf life in the refrigerator||Shelf life in the freezer|
|Cooked meat or poultry||3 to 4 days||2 to 6 months|
|Pizza||3 to 4 days||1 to 2 months|
|Luncheon meats||3 to 5 days||1 to 2 months|
|Egg, tuna, and macaroni salads||3 to 5 days||not recommended|
What are the risks of eating spoiled ready meals?
The risks of eating spoiled ready meals are of experiencing a foodborne disease. Pathogenic bacteria and other microorganisms are related to the spoilage of ready take-out meals, such as Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes and others (8).
The pathogenic bacteria Clostridium botulinum is related to the contamination of ready-to-eat sterilized foods, which is able to form spores and grow when favorable conditions are present (9).
Foodborne illnesses can manifest by the following symptoms (7):
- stomach cramps
You should immediately contact your doctor or emergency department because you may have a foodborne illness.
How to know if the ready meal is spoiled?
To know if the ready meal is spoiled, you should carefully observe the texture and smell, the appearance and be able to notice any alterations or possible signs of spoilage, such as (9):
- The generation of gas (which can be noticed by the bloating of packaging or container)
- Generation of off-odors, such as sour, putrid or rancid
- Formation of a slimy texture, which may indicate bacteria or yeasts
- The growth of fuzzy colonies or colored spots can be signs of mold or yeast growth
- Changes in the color is also a possible sign of spoilage. Long storage leads to discoloration, due to oxidation reactions
In this article we answered the following question: Can I eat a ready meal 4 days out of date? and discussed the risks of eating a ready meal 4 days out of date and how to know if the meal is spoiled.
- What is a Meal, Ready-to-Eat? United States Department of Agriculture.
- Nissen, H., et al. Safety evaluation of sous vide‐processed ready meals. Lett Appl Microbiol, 2002, 35, 433-438.
- Jeyapriya, S., and Rushikesh A. Kantale. Retort Packaging Technology, its Market and Future Prospective. Vigyan Varta, 2022, 3, 65-69.
- Safe Handling of Take-Out Foods. United States Department of Agriculture.
- Food Product Dating. United States Department of Agriculture.
- Tang, Juming, et al. Microwave pasteurization for ready-to-eat meals. Curr Opin Food Sci, 2018, 23, 133-141.
- Foodborne illness and disease. United States Department of Agriculture.
- Leftovers and Food Safety. United States Department of Agriculture.
- Rawat, Seema. Food Spoilage: Microorganisms and their prevention. Asian j plant sci Res, 2015, 5, 47-56.