For quite some time, we have emphasized the importance of date marking ready-to-eat TCS* foods that are being held more than 24-hours after preparation in order to minimize the possibility for the growth of Listeria–a pathogenic bacteria that is capable of growing at refrigerated temperatures. [The maximum hold time for these date marked foods can be no longer than 7 days from the preparation date of the oldest prepared TCS food used as an ingredient.] This same requirement also applies to the opening of commercially prepared TCS foods, which can’t be consumed beyond their expiration date or a 7 day hold time—whichever comes first. One often overlooked scenario is the proper date marking of prepared foods that are frozen for later use. Freezing food may stop the growth of Listeria, but that’s not enough to kill it!
Freezing prepared TCS foods will stop the 7 day clock: however, the initial preparation and holding of the food has to be taken into account. The table shown above gives an example of how such date marking should be implemented. In this case, chicken was cooked and cooled, the morning of Day One and is date marked with the Date Prepared/Opened (October 1). After being refrigerated for 2 days, it was then placed in the freezer the morning of Day Three and marked with that date as the Date Frozen (October 3). The day that the prepared TCS food was removed from the freezer to thaw is noted as the Pull Date (October 10) and the clock starts ticking again.
The time the prepared TCS food was held before freezing at 41°F or less (in this case two days, October 1 and 2) is subtracted from the 7 day total, which allows us to determine the Discard Date. In this example, the Day Seven discard date marked is October 14. Thus, the chicken must be consumed or discarded by the end of the day on October 14.
*Time and temperature control for safety