An abundance of good food is often associated with the holiday season. Many holiday meals are served potluck with people bringing prepared dishes. Certain food safety precautions should be taken to make sure that your potluck does not become bad luck with an incident of foodborne illness.
For example, precautions should be taken when transporting food to a party or office get-together. Perishable foods should not be left in the temperature danger zone of 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit for more than two hours. This time includes transport and service on a buffet line. Perishable food items include meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, cooked vegetables and dairy products, and dishes made with these foods such as dressing, gravy, casseroles, or cream pies, puddings and dips.
As a guest or a hostess at a holiday potluck meal, consider the following:
- If the perishable foods will be prepared ahead of time such as the night before or the morning of the event, keep the foods refrigerated until time to leave. If it is to be served hot, plan to reheat it at the event.
- Ovens and microwaves should be used to reheat food – don’t use warming trays or slow cookers. Use a food thermometer to check that reheated foods reach 165 degrees F. If reheating equipment is not available, plan to prepare food closer to the event time. Keep it hot by wrapping the prepared food in towels or a blanket or by placing it in an insulated chest.
- Perishable foods to be served cold should be kept below 40 degrees F until serving time. Ice chests work well for transporting and keeping cold food cold. Use ice chests or ice bowls to keep cold foods below 40 degrees on a buffet line.
- Keep everything clean that comes into contact with food. Wash hands and food preparation surfaces often. Make sure adequate garbage disposal facilities are available and that garbage is kept away from the food area.
- If food will be prepared at the event, remember to keep raw meat separate from foods that will not be cooked such as salad or raw fruit or vegetable tray ingredients. If possible, use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat, poultry, and seafood. If separate cutting boards and utensils are not available, clean and sanitize between uses.
If you are organizing and hosting the party, remember the two hour rule! Do not let perishable foods remain in the temperature danger zone for more than two hours. If foods have been left out for more than 2 hours, discard them. Remember, “if in doubt, throw it out.”
Contact Sherri Halsell, Texas AgriLife Extension Service Clay County agent at 538-5042, for more information.