Handle Holiday Party Foods Safely

Posted: December 13, 2011

If you are planning on hosting a holiday party or family gathering, be sure to keep food safety in mind. Handling food safely is critical to preventing foodborne illness from being an uninvited guest at your event. Below are a few tips from the USDA and Iowa State University Extension to help keep holiday parties safe.

* Always wash your hands before and after handling food. Keep your kitchen, dishes and utensils clean also. Always serve food on clean plates -- not those previously holding raw meat and poultry. Otherwise, bacteria which may have been present in raw meat juices can cross contaminate the food to be served.
     * Keep it small. Prepare food in small batches and serve one platter or dish at a time.
Store remaining quantities in the refrigerator or keep hot dishes in the oven (200 degrees to 250 degrees F) prior to serving.
    * Take temperatures. Cooked, hot foods should be kept at 140 degrees F or warmer. Use slow cookers, chafing dishes or buffet servers to keep foods hot. Be sure to use a food thermometer (the only safe way to ensure proper temperature) to check temperatures.
     Cold foods should be kept at 40 F or less. Keep cold foods refrigerated until just before serving. If food is going to stay out on the buffet table longer than two hours, place plates of cold food on ice to retain the chill.
     * Keep it fresh. It can be unsafe to add new food to a serving dish that already has been used. Many people's hands may have touched the food, which has been sitting at room temperature. Replace empty platters with freshly filled ones. Filling food containers frequently helps keep food at proper temperatures.
     * Regarding party leftovers, toss any perishable food that has been kept at room temperature for more than 2 hours. Otherwise, divide large quantities of foods into shallow containers to store in the refrigerator or freezer. This encourages rapid, even cooling. Be sure to label leftover packages stored in the freezer with the date they were frozen.
     * Consume leftovers within 2-3 days and reheat to 165 degrees F. before eating.
     If you’re attending a holiday party where food is served buffet style, practice food safety etiquette.
     * Wash your hands before helping yourself to the food. Your hands have come in contact with surfaces where you picked up bacteria and germs that you don’t want to consume with your food or leave on the buffet serving utensils.
     * Don’t use your hands to serve food. Use the tongs or utensils. If there are none, ask for some.
     * Don’t eat in the buffet line. Saliva can spray on the food and pass bacteria to others. If you are unsure about a food, take a sample on your plate to taste at your table.
     * Use a clean plate for seconds (and thirds!). Leave your eating utensils at your table on a clean napkin or ask for clean utensils.
     * Take what you touch. If you touch a bread roll, put it on the plate. Don’t change your mind and put it back.
     By following some basic food safety rules, your holiday parties will be safe as well as fun.

Karen Thomas is a family and consumer sciences educator for Penn State Cooperative Extension of Lackawanna County.