Safe graduation party food

Large party gatherings enhance the threat of foodborne illness.

It is once again that time of year when we congratulate graduates on their academic accomplishments. While it is a time for great celebration, don’t forget about food safety when having parties and gatherings that involve food. Nothing would dampen the celebration like making people sick, so whether you’re preparing all the food yourself, or doing it pot-luck style, there are several things you can do to reduce the risk of foodborne illness at your event. Michigan State University Extension recommends the following practices:

  • Keep hot foods hot, and cold foods cold. Bacteria grow in the temperature danger zone between 41-135 degrees Fahrenheit. Keeping cold foods on ice or in coolers and hot foods on hotplates can prevent the growth of dangerous bacteria. Use a food thermometer to check food temperatures throughout the day and throw out any food that has been in the temperature danger zone too long. Food can sit at ambient temperature for up to two hours. If it is greater than 90 degrees Fahrenheit ambient temperature, food should not be left out for more than an hour.
  • Cook meat to proper internal temperatures. Lighting up the grill is a great idea for graduation parties, and hotdogs and hamburgers are common at such events. Make sure to supply the grill-master with a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of meat products before serving. While cooking until the “juices run clear” is still a common practice, it is not a safe way to know that each type of meat has reached a temperature that will kill bacteria. Also make sure that the griller has a way to clean and sanitize utensils/thermometers that may have come in contact with raw or undercooked meat.
  • Make real iced tea, not sun tea. Making tea through a method known as sun tea involves leaving a clear container with water and teabags out in the sun to “brew” for several hours, capitalizing on the sun’s hot rays. However, this method creates a breeding ground for bacteria. Tea leaves can become contaminated during growth, harvest or drying. Normal brewing temperatures of 175 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter kills these bacteria. Unfortunately the highest temperature attained under sun-brewing is about 130 degrees Fahrenheit, which is in the temperature danger zone, and perfect for bacterial growth. Although few illness outbreaks have been linked to sun tea, it is best to brew tea traditionally, with boiling water. Once cooled, store iced tea in a refrigerator or cooler at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.
  • Provide handwashing access. Dirty hands are by far the one of the greatest risks for spreading foodborne illness. If your party is at your home or another indoor venue, it is likely the bathroom will have handwashing available. But, if you’re having a party at a park or other outdoor venue you may consider setting up your own handwashing station. All you need is a container with a spigot, soap, paper towels and a trash container. Encourage guests to wash their hands before going through the serving line, and always make sure that those serving food have washed their hands properly.

Following these simple guidelines will reduce the risk of a foodborne illness ruining your event. For further information about preventing foodborne illness contact your local MSU Extension office.

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