Offsite foodservice is the service of food to someplace other than where it’s prepared or cooked.
It’s common among restaurants that cater and certain schools that prepare food in a centralized location and then transport it to their satellite locations for serving.
Just like a conventional foodservice system where food is purchased, prepared, and served onsite, there are many opportunities for cross-contamination and other food hazards with off-site foodservice.
This article explains the best food safety practices for off-site foodservice, before, during, and after transportation.
Here’s how to keep food safe before, during, and after transportation for offsite foodservice.
You must still practice the basics of food safety when preparing food for off-site service, especially with time-temperature controlled for safety (TCS) food.
Remember to handle food safely to avoid cross-contamination and cook foods to a safe minimum internal temperature.
After you finish preparing the food, it’s time to pack and label it for transportation.
Pack the food in insulated, food-safe containers that are leakproof, like NSF-certified containers.
Using insulated containers holds food at a safe temperature for longer, while a leakproof container prevents cross-contamination.
After you pack the food, label it with what it is, a use-by date and time, and reheating and serving instructions.
Finally, take and record the temperature of each food item using a calibrated food thermometer to ensure that the cold foods are 41ºF (5ºC) or lower and the hot foods are 135ºF (57ºC) or higher.
Food that is between these ranges in the temperature danger zone cannot leave your restaurant or foodservice operation.
Your delivery vehicle should be clean and free from signs of contamination or pests.
Food that slips into the temperature danger zone is the biggest food safety concern during transportation.
The insulated containers will do a good job of holding food at a safe temperature but you should also take the shortest delivery route.
Ideally, you don’t have to travel far to reach the site at which you are serving but for distances greater than two hours, it’s best to take and record the food temperature.
Doing so allows you to know whether the food is maintaining a safe holding temperature.
If it’s not, you will have to decrease the time in which it must be served or tossed accordingly.
After transportation and set-up
The catering site or satellite location should have everything you need to set up and serve food safely.
This means adequate water, handwashing, serving areas, and trash cans, which should be kept away from food areas.
Upon arrival, temp each food and record it.
If you notice that a hot-held food is below 135ºF (57ºC), you can recondition it by reheating it to 165ºF (74ºC) for 15 seconds — but only if it has been less than four hours since you checked the temperature last.
Of course, you may not have access to cooking equipment, and a microwave isn’t suitable for large quantities of food.
If necessary, you can hold food without temperature controls if you follow certain guidelines.
You can hold cold food without temperature control for up to six hours as long as it doesn’t exceed 70ºF (21ºC).
Assuming it was held at a safe temperature prior, label it with the time you removed it from refrigeration and when it must be served or tossed.
In contrast, you can hold hot foods without temperature control for up to four hours, in which case you must label it with the time you removed it from hot holding at 135ºF (57ºC) or higher and the time it must be served or tossed.
However, you cannot hold TCS foods without temperature control if you serve highly susceptible populations like older adults, preschool-aged children, or people with conditions that compromise the immune system like cancer or diabetes (1).
To keep food safe for offsite foodservice, pack food in insulated, leak-proof containers to prevent cross-contamination and maintain safe food temperatures. Temp the food before it leaves your location and when you arrive onsite.
The bottom line
Offsite foodservice involves the service of food to someplace other than where it was prepared and cooked.
Because there are multiple opportunities for food hazards, you must know how to keep food safe before, during, and after transportation.
Ensure the food is at a safe temperature prior to transporting it.
Label it with what it is, the time and date it must be served or tossed, and reheating and serving instructions, and then pack it in insulated, leak-proof containers.
Depending on the distance to your customer’s site, you may need to check the temperature during transportation.
Otherwise, temp the food when you arrive and recondition it or adjust the time it must be served or tossed accordingly.
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