‘Tis the season to be jolly – so why spoil it with a case of food poisoning from the holiday party buffet? This time of year, your schedule will fill up pretty quickly with family gatherings and office parties, and at some point you’ll probably get an invitation to a potluck, for which you’ll be expected to supply a dish. Instead of making one of the many common cooking errors and bringing something that will make everyone sick, why not follow this handy guide – and stay happy and healthy throughout the whole holiday season?
Handling the Food
Though it may seem obvious, washing your hands before and after handling food is an extremely important step of any food prep process. This might seem like common sense to some; however, when you’re preparing food for an entire office full of people, you’d be surprised how forgetful you can become. You’ll also want to keep everything that surrounds or touches the food clean – this includes your kitchen, and the dishes and utensils that you will be using.
Bonus Tip: Immediately wash any dishes that were used to hold raw meat or poultry – and never reuse these dishes to serve that meat! Bacteria can be present in the raw meat and it can spread and cross contaminate all your other food very quickly.
Cook Food Thoroughly
Harmful bacteria can linger in food that isn’t cooked thoroughly – and if you haven’t had any food quality training, you might not be aware of the proper cook times and temperatures that various food items require – like meat, poultry and fish. A great way to ensure that you’re cooking your food properly is to check your government’s food safety website, which lists the safe internal cooking temperatures for most food items.
Bonus Tip: If you’re planning to serve any type of gravy or meat drippings, make sure to bring them to a boil first!
Keep Hot Foods Hot…
Anyone who has had food safety training can confirm that hot food should always be kept at a temperature of 140 degrees F. or higher. It’s best to serve hot food items immediately after they’ve been cooked, or reheated. Though, if you’re bringing food to an office holiday party, it’s likely that you may not be able to do so – and if that’s the case, simply using an insulated bag or hot food carrier will work just as well.
Bonus tip: If your office has a microwave, stove or oven, you can actually completely chill your food and quickly reheat it upon your arrival.
…And Cold Foods Cold
Just as hot food should remain hot, cold food should still be cold when it’s served and eaten. If you are pursuing HACCP certification, you understand the importance of serving cold food items at a temperature of 40 degrees or below. If there isn’t a refrigerator available at the holiday party venue, a great way to keep your food chilled is to store it in a cooler filled with icepacks.
Bonus Tip: Keep a thermometer inside the cooler, which will allow you to check the temperature of your dish before it’s served.
Use the Two-Hour Rule
This is the golden rule for attending and hosting dinner parties! Food should never sit at room temperature for longer than two hours – so don’t forget to keep track of how long those appetizers have been lingering on the buffet table.
Bonus Tip: If you should ever find yourself in doubt of how long something has been sitting out, don’t risk your health – just throw it out.
What other safety tips can you think of for avoiding tummy trouble – or worse – during holiday buffets?