Food safety

Ready to eat TCS food must be marked

Any ready to eat TCS food must be marked with a use-by, sold-by, or consumed-by date to minimize the risk of causing ...

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  • Any ready to eat TCS food must be marked with a use-by, sold-by, or consumed-by date to minimize the risk of causing foodborne illnesses.
  • Ready to eat TCS food that is intended to be kept for more than 24 hours must be stored in controlled temperature storage and date-marked for a maximum of 7 days 
  • Date marking has to be erasure-proof, visible, clear, and understandable for all employees.

Two of the most important external factor of food safety may perhaps be time and temperature. Within the safe range of both time and temperature, foods can be served and enjoyed without food safety risks such as causing foodborne illnesses. When foods are set to be consumed at a later time, refrigerating them would be the most logical thing to do in the food service industry.

Refrigeration slows down the multiplication of bacteria and other harmful pathogens. Despite this, time-temperature control for safety foods, otherwise known as TCS foods, cannot indefinitely stay inside a refrigerator. As such, ready to eat TCS food must be marked with a use-by date if it will be held for more than 24 hours inside a refrigerator.


ready to eat TCS food must be marked


Although the growth of bacteria and other pathogens is generally stopped or at least slowed down during refrigeration, some bacteria can survive this condition. One main concern is the dangerous growth of the cold-loving bacteria, Listeria monocytogenes to unsafe levels. This bacterium is known to cause Listeriosis and infects at least 1,600 people each year, of which an estimated 260 people die. Bacteria such as Listeria pose a great threat to refrigerated ready to eat TCS food and therefore need preventive measures to preserve food safety.

Date marking is an important preventive measure that a food handler must be aware of. Find out how and when to do it to always keep your food safe.


When should ready to eat TCS food be marked?

Ready to eat, TCS food that is intended to be stored for more than 24 hours must be marked with either the date of preparation/ opening or the end/ discard date. This rule applies to ready-to-eat TCS food that is prepared onsite within the food supply chain. Likewise, commercially processed foods that have been opened and are intended to be refrigerated require date-marking. 

Ready to eat TCS food is a major food type that requires time and temperature control for food safety. This type of food must be stored in a controlled-temperature environment for a given time to preserve its wholesome state and prevent bacterial growth that could cause foodborne illnesses. Some common TCS food may include:

  • Eggs and egg products
  • Raw meat, meat products, and poultry
  • Protein meat alternatives
  • Milk and dairy products
  • Rice or pasta (Cooked)
  • Leafy greens (e.g. vegetables) and fruits
  • Baked potatoes and potato dishes


tcs food requires temperature control


On the contrary, foods that are considered highly perishable and must be consumed immediately will not require date-marking. Shelf-stable foods are also part of this exception. Below are a few examples of foods that do not require date marking:

  • Deli salad
  • Fermented/ cultured dairy products (e.g. yogurt, sour cream, and buttermilk)
  • Salted fish and other dry food
  • Fermented, processed meat (e.g. sausages and salami)
  • Some semi-soft cheeses and most hard cheeses

The process of date-marking must be consistently monitored as the safety of food relies on it. Food handlers must always be trained on when ready to eat TCS food must be marked as well as which food products do not require date-marking. Your team must also be prepared with a monitoring system to list down the foods and corresponding dates to ensure that the foods being served in your food establishment are all safe.

Establish a strong and comprehensive digital Food Safety Management System (FSMS) using our product at FoodDocs. With our digital FSMS, you can get features that will intuitively remind you of dates for any ready to eat TCS food. Additionally, you can also get an automatically generated digital monitoring form built specifically for this task. Find out more as you read this article.


FoodDocs food safety system-1


Why should ready to eat TCS food be marked?

Date marking is an effective method for ready to eat TCS foods to monitor the refrigeration period and the safety of food. TCS food is a type of product that must be stored in a controlled condition to preserve quality and safety. The main operation that can help food handlers fulfill this task is to keep foods away from the temperature danger zone which is around the food temperature range of 40°F to 140°F (5°C to 60°C). Ready to eat TCS food must then be stored in a refrigerator to slow down the growth of microorganisms that makes food unsafe.

In a refrigerator, most foodborne pathogens slow down in terms of multiplication. The low temperature hinders their metabolism and thereby delays food spoilage for a longer time. Despite this, some dangerous pathogens can survive low temperatures. Among these pathogens, Listera is the main concern. Listeria is responsible for foodborne illnesses in cold-stored foods because of its ability to grow even at refrigeration.

Most ready to eat TCS foods are only recommended to be stored for a maximum of 7 days to ensure safety. Listeriosis or the foodborne illness caused by Listeria can produce symptoms such as muscle ache, diarrhea, and fever in infected persons. Customers under the vulnerable group which includes pregnant women, children under 5 years old, and the elderly are most prone to this food contamination.

Food handlers are directed that ready to eat TCS food must be marked if it will be stored in the refrigerator for more than 24 hours.


How should ready to eat TCS food be marked?

Date marking is a food safety system that must be tailored to your operations and properly communicated throughout your whole team. There are many different ways to mark your ready to eat TCS food with data. The main idea is to give food handlers a direction on whether a food is still safe to consume or use.

Erasure-proof. TCS food can be marked using color-coded stickers with printed dates on them or water-proof labels that can be marked using pens. Refrigerated, ready to eat TCS food must be date-marked using a permanent marker. Date signs that can be easily washed off can increase the risk of losing the information. Use only water-proof stickers and markers or secure the labels in plastics.

Clear and visible. The marked dates must be legible and placed on a very visible spot. As much as possible, only place the marked dates at the center of the product or where the information can be easily seen. When the information is too small to read or the writing is not very readable, this can cause confusion among food safety information and become a source of issues.

Uniform. The information must not be confusing. Clarify whether the calendar dates that you are using a "date-month-year" or "month-date-year" format or if you have your number coding. The proper date format to be used must be communicated well. Orient your team members if the time is also indicated.

Regardless of which information format you are using, ready to eat foods can only be kept for a maximum of 7 days at 41°F (5°C) or below. Past this threshold, foods must be discarded properly.

In cases when ready to eat TCS foods from different batches of food are combined, you must consider the date of the earliest processed or opened food product. You will base the end date on this product. In terms of specifying the time for frozen ready to eat TCS foods, you will start counting the time when the foods are stored in the freezer.

For a food establishment such as a restaurant that keeps many types of foods, it may be hard to keep track of every information for each TCS food. Make food safety monitoring easier and more accurate by using our digital FSMS


What does the marked date mean on ready to eat TCS food?

Refrigerated TCS food is labeled with a date and time to indicate when food must be sold by, consumed before, or thrown out. The date marked on a ready to eat TCS food may mean 2 things. Ready to eat TCS food can be marked with either of the following information:

  • Date of opening the product or preparation date
  • End date or when the food must be discarded

The two types of information cannot be used at the same time as it will confuse. Your food safety team must be directed to use only one format. In addition to the indicated date, food handlers may also include the time of opening or the end of the shelf life of a product. What is important is that both the date and time are in a uniform format.


What must be marked on ready to eat bags PHFs?

Potentially Hazardous Foods (PHFs) or ready to eat TCS food must be marked with the date by which it must be sold or consumed. The information marked on bags of ready to eat, PHF foods is applicable if the food items are consistently stored in a refrigerator with a temperature of 41°F (5°C) or below.


egg is a tcs food


For how many hours can you eat and store ready to eat TSC food?

Ready to eat TCS foods are advised to only be stored for a maximum of four (4) hours without temperature control of food after preparation. Beyond this 4-hour window time, the food must be discarded to protect customers from food safety issues. Any TCS food is advised to be refrigerated right after preparation or opening. Leaving them within the temperature danger zone, even for less than four hours, increases the potential risk of food contamination.

As mentioned, even though refrigeration offers protection against foodborne pathogens and extends the shelf life of ready to eat food, the effects are not indefinite. TCS food can only be considered wholesome at least 7 days from the point of refrigeration. Beyond this, the risk of foodborne illnesses from pathogens such as Listeria is significantly increased. To prevent forgetting food items in the refrigerator, practice the First-In, First-Out method (FIFO method).

In case a refrigerated TCS food was transferred from the refrigerator to the freezer, the considered time for the food during storage is stopped as well. That is, once a ready to eat TCS food that is refrigerated for three days has been moved to the freezer, the timer for it stops. Once it is moved out of the freezer, then the food is still considered refrigerated for three days.

Check also our Proper Food Storage Chart Poster to help your team keeping in mind all TCS food and proper storage times.


How digital solution helps your team monitoring TCS food?

Monitoring the shelf life of ready to eat TCS food can become a burden for food handlers. Most TCS foods are very common ingredients in any food establishment. If all TCS foods are to be date-marked and monitored, your team will undoubtedly need a long and comprehensive monitoring form. Not to mention that you would also need forms for monitoring accurate readings of your food thermometer for the storage temperate as well as the timer for storing TCS food in the refrigerator. Your food safety team must handle all the time-consuming paperwork or you can choose to switch to digital monitoring.

Monitoring is an essential part of keeping ready to eat TCS food wholesome for customers. It is only through monitoring that food handlers can keep track of which foods are still good and up to when can they be served and apply any corrective action immediately. As such, building a comprehensive FSMS is important to maintain safety within your food premises.

FoodDocs digital food safety system features a smart notification that you can use to remind food handlers of any ready to eat TCS food that is about to go to waste. This feature can help you prevent any food waste while keeping your operations safe and your products wholesome. Using our mobile application, our system will send intuitive alerts for any food safety operation that needs to be done.



Monitoring TCS food with FoodDocs


The problem is that TCS foods are not the only points that you need to monitor when it comes to food safety compliance. You would also need to monitor operations such as cooking to the correct internal cooking temperature and sanitation food safety control.

To help you centralize all of your food safety compliance activities such as monitoring procedures, forms, checklists, and other food safety tasks, use our digital Food Safety Management System at FoodDocs. Our system cuts the time that you need to conceptualize and establish a comprehensive FSMS. In just an average of 15 minutes, you can get a digital FSMS that is built specifically based on your food safety operations.

In combination with this feature, our system can automatically generate appropriate digital monitoring forms for your everyday food safety observations. You can easily increase your operation efficiency with our digital FSMS. To accommodate any food safety operation that is unique to your food business or improvements to the automatically generated digital FSMS, our system allows customizations. You can also save at least 20% of your time on supervising by using our system's real-time dashboard that shows your food safety operations progress and status. You can easily point out which areas need more attention.

Using our digital FSMS, you can achieve food safety compliance by allowing us to help you remember every food safety task on time and monitor them accurately. Join our list of more than 20,000 customers who are enjoying food safety compliance with our digital FSMS. Experience how our system can help your food establishment with artificial intelligence-powered features. Start your digital food safety journey today, by signing up for our free, 14-day trial.



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