Posted On: April 29, 2021

When to Accept and Refuse Seafood, Poultry, and Meat in a Shipment

No matter how careful you are to prevent foodborne illness in your own kitchen, your ingredients had a life before they came to you. The way your food was harvested, processed, packaged, and transported before it arrived can introduce food safety risks that can damage your reputation.

That's why exercising discretion in the acceptance of food deliveries can be so critical to your business's food safety plan. It's especially important with time and temperature controlled for safety (TCS) foods, including seafood, poultry, and meat. However, you need to take precautions with all delivery items.


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General Rules for Refusing or Accepting Food in a Shipment

The most important thing you can do to prevent foodborne illness due to transportation mishaps is to purchase from approved and reputable food distributors. Your food safety is only as good as the management standards of your vendors.

Regardless of a vendor's reputation, accidents can happen to anyone. That's why it's important to inspect every food delivery before you accept it. An inspection should include the following basic steps.

Check the Temperature on TCS Foods

You need to check the temperatures of products upon delivery and reject any items that aren't within the recommended range. Use a proper meat thermometer and check that:

  • Cold TCS foods are 41°F or below
  • Milk is 45°F or below (but cool it to 41°F or below within 4 hours)
  • Eggs in the shell are 45°F or below
  • Hot TCS food is 135°F or above
  • Frozen food is solid when received

For raw meat, poultry, or fish, insert the thermometer probe into the thickest part of the food – that's typically the center.

For food that comes in vacuum-sealed packaging, insert the thermometer between two packages while being careful not to puncture the packaging material.

In the cases of other packaged food, like milk, open the package and fully immerse the sensor, without letting it touch the packaging.

Examine Food Packaging for Damage

Inspect the packaging within your delivery.

Reject the shipment if the packaging contains holes, tears, broken seals, missing labels, or other signs of tampering. The same is true for dirty packaging. This is particularly true for frozen food packaging that shows signs of thawing and refreezing like fluid stains or frozen fluid inside the packaging. Any packaging that's discolored or water stained must be rejected.

You also need to know when to reject canned goods. Dented or rusted cans, especially those with damage near the seams, can give pathogens an opportunity to contaminate the contents. Bulging cans or jar lids can indicate that the food was contaminated before or during the canning process.

This is also true for vacuum-packaged meat. If the packaging is bloated with gas or leaking, it may be contaminated.

Finally, you must check the use-by or expiration dates. Reject items that have passed these dates or had these dates removed.

You should also pay attention to the way the food is stacked or stored, and keep an eye out for potential cross-contamination.

Assess Food Appearance and Quality

Visually inspect the food, as well. Look for unusual coloration, consistency, or odors. Reject food with any sign of mold or pest damage.

Reject moist foods that are delivered dry or dry foods that are delivered moist.

Raw fish, meat, and poultry should never be slimy, sticky, dry, or soft enough to hold an imprint when you touch it.

Check Transportation Logs

You have the right to ask for transportation logs for your delivery, to ensure that temperatures were taken regularly and safe temperatures were maintained throughout the entire process.

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When to Accept Live Clams and Other Shellfish

In addition to the general rules above, live shellfish requires some additional attention. This includes oysters, mussels, clams, and scallops.

The recommended live shellfish receiving temperature is an air temperature of 45°F or below and an internal temperature no greater than 50°F. Within 4 hours of receiving, the shellfish must be cooled to 41°F or lower.

In addition to checking the temperature, reject any shellfish that are muddy, have broken or open shells, or have died.

Shellfish also need identification tags indicating when and where it was harvested. If this tag is missing, you must reject the shipment. You'll keep this tag on the product until it's all sold or served, date it once the product is gone, and keep it on file for 90 days afterward.

When to Accept Raw Shucked Shellfish

When you receive raw shucked shellfish, they should be 45°F or below. Like live shellfish, they must be cooled to 41°F or below within 4 hours.

They should be packaged in non-returnable containers and labeled with the packer's name, address, and certification number. Containers less than a half-gallon need a "best if used by" or "sell by" date. Containers larger than a half-gallon need the date that the shellfish were shucked, instead.

When to Accept Fish

If you're accepting fish that will be served raw or partially cooked, as in sushi, then the fish must be frozen by the supplier and kept that way through transport to ensure that all parasites are killed. If the fish isn't frozen solid, you must reject it.

You also need the correct documentation for this type of fish delivery to confirm that it was correctly frozen before you received it. As with live shellfish, you'll keep these documents for 90 days after the fish is sold.

Fish that will be cooked before serving should be treated like the cold TCS food that it is. This means a temperature of 41°F or below.

You should reject any fish with an ammonia smell, sunken eyes, or an unusual consistency. 

Farm-raised fish needs documentation that states it was raised to FDA standards. These, too, should be kept for 90 days after sale.

When to Accept Meat

Red meat like beef, veal, pork, and lamb should be received at 41°F or below.

General rules for cold TCS foods apply. Reject any red meat with an unusual odor, color, or consistency. Meat should never be green or greenish-brown.

When to Accept Poultry

Chicken, turkey, duck, and other poultry should also be treated as a cold TCS food. Reject it if the temperature is over 41°F or if it has an unusual odor, color, or consistency.

Bad poultry turns anything from bluish-white to yellow. Fresh poultry is pale or pinkish.

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