The beginning of fall brings many opportunities to plan fun get-togethers, and every great gathering needs appealing refreshments. Whether you’re planning a party for Halloween or to celebrate a birthday, or providing food for a neighborhood block party or your child’s class at school, one thing is for certain: food must be prepared safely so that those who eat it don’t become ill. Keep these tips in mind as you prepare your food.
The following safe food handling procedures are essential for all food preparation, whether it’s for a party or just an everyday meal:
- Clean: Anyone preparing food should use soap and water to wash their hands, clean kitchen surfaces like countertops, and clean any utensils to be used.
- Separate: Use different cutting boards to ensure that raw meats stay separated from other foods you’re preparing.
- Cook: Use a food thermometer to make sure you’re cooking foods to the proper temperature.
- Chill: Quickly chill raw and prepared foods.
Tips for preparing food for a party or buffet
The USDA recommends the following tips when making food for gatherings:
- Cook food thoroughly. If you’re cooking food ahead of time for your party, make sure it’s cooked to its minimal internal temperature. Not sure what the right temperature is for what you’re cooking? Visit the USDA’s website for more information.
- Use shallow containers.Divide cooked foods into shallow containers to store in the refrigerator or freezer until serving—it encourages rapid, even cooling.
- Replace empty platters instead of just adding fresh food to a dish that already had food in it. Many people’s hands may have been taking food from the dish, plus the dish has been sitting out at room temperature.
- Mind the two-hour rule.Food should not sit at room temperature for more than two hours. Discard anything left at the refreshment table after two hours.
- Maintain proper food temperatures.Hot foods should be kept at 140 °F or warmer. You can keep hot foods hot by using chafing dishes, slow cookers, or warming trays. Cold foods should be held at 40 °F or colder. Keep foods cold by nesting dishes in bowls of ice, or use small serving trays and replace them often.
Tips for preparing meat or poultry
- Thaw your meat/poultry before cooking it so that it cooks more evenly. You can thaw it slowly but safely in your refrigerator. If you need to thaw it more quickly, you can use your microwave to defrost it, but only if it will be cooked immediately afterward.
- Marinate meat or poultry in your refrigerator, not on your counter.
- Transport food safely. If you’re going to be transporting food to another event or location, use an insulated cooler with ice packs; the cooler needs to keep your food at a temperature of under 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Use a clean dish. When taking cooked food out of the oven, put it on a clean platter. Don’t re-use the same platter that previously held raw meat or poultry.
- Refrigerate any leftovers quickly, and throw out any food that’s been left out for over 2 hours.
Other resources for help
Have a question for a Health Advocate? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, and your question may be answered in an upcoming “Ask a Health Advocate” column!