NDSU Extension - McLean County


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Planning Food For a Group

It is important to know the safe steps to handling and serving food to groups such as church dinners, family gatherings or events.

When preparing for your special event, remember that there may be an invisible enemy ready to strike. It’s called bacteria and it can make you sick. Some of the leading causes of foodborne illness outbreaks include:

• Preparation a day or more ahead of timeCupcakes
• Food left in the danger zone longer than two hours (41 to 140oF)
• Cross contamination

Proper cooking or processing of foods destroys bacteria.  
Most cases of foodborne illness can be prevented.


  • Ensure adequate storage space in the refrigerator and freezer. 
  • For outdoor events, ensure you have a source of clean water and develop a plan for transporting equipment for cleanup after the event.


  • Do not purchase damaged canned goods. 
  • Buy cold foods last.


  • Clean –– Wash hands for 20 seconds.  Wash, Rinse and Sanitize (1 tsp bleach to 1 quart of water) utensils and surfaces often.
  • Separate –– Don’t cross contaminate fresh produce with raw meat, poultry and seafood.
  • Thaw foods in the refrigerator (Every 5 lbs. of meat takes 24 hrs. in the refrigerator to thaw.)  Cold, running water or the microwave may also be used, but foods must be cooked immediately.


  • Cook –– Use a food thermometer to check for proper internal temperatures (USDA guidelines).
    • Poultry, casseroles, leftovers and fish 165oF
    • Ground beef 160oF
    • Pork, beef, lamb roasts and steaks 145oF. Allow three-minute stand time.
    • Eggs 160oF


  • Chill –– Refrigerate or freeze within two hours.
  • Separate raw meat, poultry, and seafood from other foods in your grocery-shopping cart
  • Store all meats below other foods in your refrigerator. 
  • Make sure you set the refrigerator temperature to 40oF and the freezer to 0oF and check these with an appliance thermometer. 



What to do when you suspect a food-caused illness:

  • Save the food
  • Seek medical treatment
  • Contact local health department
  • Call USDA meat and poultry hotline

Remember, with proper planning and preparation, cooking for groups can be safe and easy and result in a 
successful event. For more information, check out the McLean County Extension website and the following 
publication: FN585 Cooking for Groups: A Volunteer's Guide to Food Safety

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