Safe food handling is important when preparing community meals

Follow these simple steps to avoid the spread of foodborne illnesses at community dinners.

During the fall, many non-profit organizations host dinners and sell handcrafted items to raise funds. Typically members of the community support these efforts and enjoy a hearty meal. Use the following guidelines to ensure that the food is prepared safety.

When storing and preparing food:

  • Refrigerate or freeze perishable food within two hours of shopping or preparing.
  • Find separate preparation areas in the work space for raw and cooked food.
  • Never place cooked food back on the same plate or cutting board that held raw food.
  • Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils and work surfaces frequently with hot, soapy water.
  • Wash hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food, and after using the restroom or changing diapers.

Cook food to a safe minimum internal temperature. Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of meat, poultry, casseroles and other food. Check temperature in several places to be sure food is cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature. Never partially cook food for finishing later because you increase the risk of bacterial growth.

Transport food safely – keep hot food hot and cold food cold. Keep hot food at or above 140 degrees Fahrenheit; wrap well and place in an insulated container. Keep cold food at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit; place in a cooler with a cold source such as ice or frozen gel packs.

Need to reheat? Food must be hot and steamy for serving; just warming it up is not good enough. Use the stove, oven or microwave to reheat food to 165 °F. Bring sauces, soups and gravies to a boil.

When in doubt, throw it out. Discard food left out at room temperature for more than two hours. Place leftovers in shallow containers and refrigerate or freeze.

Making sure the food you serve at a community dinner is safe will add to the success of your event. For more information on cooking for groups you can visit the USDA Food Safety Education site on Cooking for Groups or download Cooking for Groups: A Volunteer’s Guide to Food Safety also available on that site.

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