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Food Safety Vital When Serving Large Groups

Don’t let a foodborne illness ruin your family gathering.

The season for graduation parties, weddings, family reunions and picnics is almost here.

Preparing and serving food safely for large groups takes a bit more planning than cooking a family meal, according to Julie Garden-Robinson, food and nutrition specialist with the North Dakota State University Extension Service. You don’t want you or your family and friends to be among the 76 million people who become ill each year in the U.S. from a foodborne illness. Of those, about 5,000 die and 325,000 require hospitalization.

Keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold is one of the major challenges when serving a big group, Garden-Robinson says. Be sure to keep foods that are supposed to be served cold at 40 F or lower and foods that are supposed to be served hot at 140 F or higher.

Replenish perishable foods on a buffet every two hours. If you are serving outside in the summer when temperatures soar above 90 degrees, replace perishable food every hour. Food left at room temperature for more than two hours is an ideal place for microorganisms to grow rapidly. Use ice to help keep foods cool and warming plates to keep it hot.

Don’t mix a fresh batch of food with food that’s been sitting on the buffet table. Make several small batches instead of one large one so you can put out more food as needed.

Here is some other advice for people preparing food for large groups:

  • Make sure you have the right equipment, such as cutting boards, utensils, food thermometers, cookware and shallow containers for storing the food. Be sure to have cleaning supplies, such as soap/detergent and paper towels, too.
  • If your event is outdoors, have a source of clean water. If water isn’t available, be prepared to bring enough for washing hands, utensils and food thermometers.
  • For outdoor events, keep birds, insects, rodents and other animals away from the food.
  • Separate raw meat, poultry and fish from other foods in your grocery cart and refrigerator.
  • Make sure you have enough space in your refrigerator and freezer to store the food.
  • Buy produce that’s not bruised or damaged. Be sure that precut produce has been refrigerated.
  • Rinse fresh produce under running water, even if it has a rind or skin that won’t be eaten. Scrub firm-skinned produce with a clean vegetable brush to remove dirt if necessary. Never use soap or bleach to wash produce.
  • Buy cold foods last. Drive home or to the site of your event immediately after leaving the grocery store. If your destination is more than 30 minutes away, bring a cooler with ice or commercial freezing gels and put the perishable foods in it.
  • Prepare food as closely to the time you’ll serve it as possible. Do not partially cook meat or other main dish ahead of time.
  • Wash your hands with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food and after using the bathroom, changing diapers and handling pets.
  • Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils and countertops after preparing each food item to prevent one food from contaminating another. You can use a solution of about 1 teaspoon of bleach in 1 quart of water to sanitize washed surfaces and utensils.
  • If possible, use one cutting board for fresh produce and another one for raw meat, poultry or seafood.
  • Don’t thaw frozen foods on the counter. Thaw them in the refrigerator or microwave oven. They also can be thawed in cold water. To do that, place the food in airtight wrapping and submerge it in running cold water or place it in a clean sink or container with cold water. Change the water in the container or sink every 30 minutes.
  • If you’re using a marinade to tenderize or add flavor to food, marinate the food in the refrigerator. Do not reuse the marinade on other foods.
  • Use utensils to handle and serve food. Don’t use the same utensil or dish for serving the food that you used to handle uncooked food.
  • Don’t reuse disposable items such as plastic spoons or bags.

For more information on preparing food safely, check out the NDSU Extension Service’s publications at http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/foodsafe.html.

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187, julie.garden-robinson@ndsu.edu
Editor:Ellen Crawford, (701) 231-5391, ellen.crawford@ndsu.edu
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