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How Retail Delis Refrigerate Food

EHS-Net Findings and Recommendations

Graphic image of a deli counter with a customer speaking to food worker.

EHS-Net Recommends

We recommend that food safety programs and retail delis

  • Encourage or require kitchen managers to be certified in food safety.
  • Monitor and record refrigerator temperatures.

Most delis keep food cold enough to reduce growth of Listeria monocytogenes (Lm) and other germs that cause foodborne illness and outbreaks, but 1 in 6 delis do not.

Why This Study Was Done

Graphic black and white image of a thermometer.

Lm causes the third highest number of foodborne illness deaths in the United States each year. Lm contamination of sliced deli meats at retail locations is a major cause of listeriosis illness and outbreaks.

To prevent this, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Code recommends that delis refrigerate deli meats and certain other ready-to-eat foods at 41ºF or colder. This reduces growth of Lm and other germs that cause foodborne illness outbreaks.

Knowing more about how retail delis refrigerate food can help delis and food safety programs reduce risk of foodborne illness.

What the Study Described

The purpose of this study was to

Graphic image of a male and female food worker with a badge reading
  • Describe how often retail deli refrigerators were warmer than 41ºF.
  • Describe deli and staff traits linked with better temperatures.

What the Study Found

Some delis keep refrigerators too warm, which can increase risk of foodborne illness.

  • 1 in 6 delis had a refrigerator that was too warm.
  • Delis were more likely to have a refrigerator that was too warm if
    • The deli had more than one refrigerator.
    • Deli staff did not record refrigerator temperatures.
    • The deli manager was not certified in food safety.

Delis were more likely to refrigerate food at FDA-recommended temperatures if they

  • Had a kitchen manager certified in food safety.
  • Recorded refrigerator temperatures.

Key Terms

Foodborne illness: an illness caused by germs in food.

Foodborne illness outbreak: when two or more people have the same sickness after eating food from the same place.

Listeria monocytogenes (Lm): germ that causes the foodborne illness listeriosis, a serious infection.

Retail delis: delis that prepare or serve ready-to-eat foods to customers where there is usually a delay between purchasing the food and eating the food. Grocery stores often have retail delis.

What Is EHS-Net?

This study was conducted by the Environmental Health Specialists Network (EHS-Net). EHS-Net is a federally funded collaboration of federal, state, and local environmental health specialists and epidemiologists working to better understand the environmental causes of foodborne illness.

Want More Information?

Food Safety Practices Linked with Proper Refrigerator Temperatures in Retail Delis (scientific article this plain language summary is based on)

How Retail Delis Refrigerate Food [PDF – 326 KB] (fact sheet version of this page)

Retail Deli Food Safety Practices Study (study information)

More EHS-Net publications by Study Topic or Citation

More Food Safety Study Findings in Plain Language