NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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Ready for the Crowd

Ready for the Crowd


                Even the most experienced cook can hesitate when planning to cook for a crowd.  Cooking for a crowd takes planning in order to keep the food safe and everyone healthy. Following are several hints to keep the food both safe and delicious.

                When planning for a large event, be sure to have all the right equipment ahead of time. Equipment should include plenty of wash, rinsed and sanitized cutting boards, food thermometers, cookware, shallow storage containers, hot and cold holding equipment, soap, water and paper towels. To make a sanitizing solution, use one tablespoon unscented, liquid chlorine bleach to one gallon of water.  

                A key part of planning for a crowd involves shopping for the food. Purchase canned goods that are free of dents, leaks, bulging and rust. Bulging and leaking cans are signs that dangerous foodborne pathogens are growing inside. 

                Raw meat, poultry and seafood need to be separated from the other food, both in the shopping cart and in the refrigerator to prevent cross-contamination.

                Cold and frozen foods need to be purchased last.  For perishable foods take a cooler with ice or frozen gel packs to them cold during transportation. Perishable foods need to be refrigerated within two hours of purchase. If the temperature outside is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit that time is moved down to one hour.

                Before stashing your purchases in your refrigerator, use a refrigerator thermometer to confirm the refrigerator temperature is reading accurate. The thermometer should read 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below.  If the refrigerator is not below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, adjust its settings so it is colder.

                Meat, poultry and seafood should be stored in containers so that raw meat juices do not drip on already prepared foods. The raw meat juices contain bacteria that could cause foodborne illness.

                Cooking the food requires that the internal temperature of the food reach a minimum internal cooking temperature to kill foodborne illness pathogens. This minimum internal cooking temperature varies depending upon the food. Use a food thermometer to verify the temp. Take the temperature of the food in at least two different places. If the food is not hot enough, continue cooking.

                When serving food at large gathering events, be sure to keep hot foods hot and cold food cold. This means keeping food out of the temperature danger zone of 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. To keep foods hot use chafing dishes, preheated steam tables, warming trays and, or slow cookers.  Check the temperature frequently to make sure it is above 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

                To keep cold foods cold, place the cold food on beds of ice. Use a deep container partially filled with ice to help keep the food cold. As the ice melts, it will be necessary to drain the water and frequently replace the ice.

                For clean-up discard all perishable foods, such as meat poultry, eggs and casseroles that have been out more than two hours. Remember if the temperatures have been above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, the time limit is one hour. The only foods that can be safely kept after the two hour are cake, cookies, crackers, breads and whole fruit.

                A favorite at many gatherings is potato salad.  The following recipe ample serves 50 guests.


                Old Fashioned Potato Salad for 50


        15 pounds red potatoes, peeled and cubed

        4 cups mayonnaise

        1 cup sweet pickle relish

        1/4 cup prepared mustard

        1 jar (4 ounces) diced pimientos, drained

        2 tablespoons salt

        1 tablespoon sugar

        2 teaspoons pepper

        6 celery ribs, chopped

        8 hard-cooked eggs, chopped

        1 small onion, chopped


                Place potatoes in two stockpots and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until tender. Drain and cool to room temperature; peel and cube.

                        In a large bowl, combine the mayonnaise, relish, mustard, pimientos, salt, sugar and pepper. Divide the potatoes, celery, eggs and onion between two very large bowls; add mayonnaise mixture. Stir to combine.

                Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.  Yield: 50 servings (3/4 cup each).

                Nutritional info:   Per 3/4 cup serving: 269 calories, 15g fat , 40mg cholesterol, 454mg sodium, 30g carbohydrate

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