Handle graduation party buffets safely

Don’t host the bacteria that cuase foodborne illness as guests at your graduation openhouse enjoy your buffet.

A popular way to celebrate a graduation and many other special occasions during spring and summer is to invite friends and family to a buffet. However, this type of food service – where foods are left unrefrigerated for long periods of time – leaves the door open for uninvited guests: the bacteria that cause foodborne illness. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Meat and Poultry Hotline recommends that you pay attention to these practices to help you serve safe food during your celebrations.

  • Always serve food on a clean plate every time.
  • Arrange and serve the food on several small platters rather than on one large platter.
  • Keep unserved food hot in an oven set at 200-250 °F or cold in the refrigerator until serving time.
  • Replace empty dishes and platters rather than adding fresh food to a dish that already had food in it. (Many people  may have been taking food from the dish, which has been sitting out at room temperature for some time.)
  • Replace the serving spoon each time you replace an empty dish of food. 
  • Do not reuse platters or plates that have previously held raw meat and poultry unless they have been thoroughly washed in hot soapy water. Otherwise, the bacteria which may have been present in the raw meat juices can cross contaminate the cooked food ready to be served.

If you are cooking food ahead of time in preparation for your party, be sure to cook them to a safe minimum internal temperature. Do not partially cook food with the plan to finish cooking at a later date. Once it has been cooked, divide it into shallow containers to store in the refrigerator or freezer until time for serving. Shallow containers encourage rapid, even cooling.

Reheat hot foods to 165°F as rapidly as possible. Do not use the slow cooker to reheat food as it heats too slowly. Reheat food on the stove or in the oven and then transfer it to the slow cooker to keep it warm during service.

Foods should not sit at room temperature for more than two hours or one hour if the air temperature is above 90 degrees. Keep track of how long foods have been sitting on the buffet table and discard anything there two hours or more. Hot foods should be held at 135°F or warmer. On the buffet table you can keep hot foods hot by using a chafing dish, slow cooker, or warming tray.

Cold foods should be held at 40°F or colder. Keep foods cold by nesting dishes in bowls of ice. Otherwise, use small serving trays and replace them often.

Attention to these details can keep the uninvided guests – bacteria that cause foodborne illness – away from your party.

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