Keep foodborne illness out of your holiday party

Follow these food safety practices to ensure the safety of your food.

During the holiday season, it is popular to have a buffet while having guests at your home. Even though a buffet is a convenient way to entertain, there are several important food handling procedures Michigan State University Extension urges you to practice before you serve the food.

When you shop at the grocery store, purchase any meat or poultry products last and keep them separated from all other foods. Keep the packages wrapped in plastic bags and immediately take home to the refrigerator. If the time between the grocery store and storing in the refrigerator exceeds two hours, pack the perishable foods in a cooler with ice.

At home, refrigerate meat immediately or if not preparing meat within two days, freeze. In addition, verify the temperature of the refrigerator and freezer. The temperature at which your refrigerator should run is 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below; while the freezer should be at zero degree or below.

Wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before beginning food preparation, after handling raw meat, poultry, seafood or eggs, after touching animals, after using the bathroom, after changing diapers, after blowing the nose or after smoking a cigarette. Meat, seafood and poultry can be thawed by placing in the refrigerator or in cold water in an airtight bag while changing the water every 30 minutes or in the microwave, but never thaw foods on the counter. While handling these raw foods, never let the juices come in to contact with cooked food or foods that will be eaten raw.

During cooking, use a meat thermometer to determine if the meat, poultry or casserole has reached a safe internal temperature. Cook roast beef to at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit and ground meats to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake all poultry and casseroles to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Always use an instant read food thermometer to check prior to serving. Place the thermometer in several places to ensure that the entire dish is thoroughly cooked and all harmful bacteria have been destroyed. Never partially cook a food product and refrigerate in order to cook later. All meat and poultry products must be cooked thoroughly prior to storing in the refrigerator for later reheating.

All cooked food products must be served on a clean plate and with clean utensils, never on a plate that has held raw meats and poultry; unless the dish has been cleaned with hot water and soap. Arrange and serve foods on several small platters, rather than on one large platter. Since perishable foods should not be kept out longer than two hours, you can more easily replenish the food by exchanging the empty platter with a new platter of fresh food. Do not mix old food with the fresh food. On the buffet table, hot foods should be held at 140 degrees Fahrenheit or higher with chafing dishes, crock-pots and warming trays. Cold foods should be held at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder. Keep foods cold by nesting dishes in bowls of ice.

After the buffet is over, divide leftovers into small units and store in shallow containers for quick cooling and refrigerate within two hours of cooking. Reheat all leftovers to a temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit and bring all soups, sauces or gravies to a rolling boil. Use all left overs within two to three days or freeze for later use.

These safety practices should be used for both holiday gatherings and during everyday food preparation. Remember to promptly refrigerate, cook food to the right temperature, separate your raw meat juices from ready to eat foods and keep yourself and kitchen clean. By following these safe food handling practices, a holiday buffet will be a fun, festive time for giving and sharing without sharing foodborne illness.

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