Enjoy your holiday buffet safely

Tips for safely sharing holiday foods with family and friends.

A plate of turkey and stuffing and potatoes.
Photo: Flickr.

Everyone enjoys the variety of foods presented at a holiday buffet with the warm company of family and friends. People bring their favorite or best dish. It is also when we need to be thinking about keeping food safe.

It is hard to think of food spoiling when it is cold outside this time of year. Whether winter or summer, though, it is a safety issue when food is left out too long or not kept hot or cold. Just because it is cold outside doesn’t mean it is safe to store food outside, in a garage or on the back porch. Temperatures fluctuate with wind or sun exposure. We also must be aware of pests or animals accessing any food left out. So, making room in the refrigerator to store food safely is best. You can also make foods ahead of time, freeze them for your big event and thaw them when it's time to enjoy the dishes. Techniques for thawing include thawing the item two or three days earlier in the refrigerator, or a microwave, then serving immediately or defrosting it as you cook. Another option is to reheat your finished food item to 165 degrees Fahrenheit and serve.

Michigan State University Extension offers these helpful tips to keep food safe:

  • Keep hot dishes hot, 140 degrees or warmer.
  • Keep cold dishes cold, 40 degrees or colder.
  • Keep extra items in the appropriate place: the refrigerator (40 degrees) or oven (200-250 degrees).
  • Serve cold dishes on a shallow bowl of ice, provided it is not out for more than two hours without temperature control.
  • Serve hot dishes in chafing dishes, slow cookers or warming trays. Before putting the food in a warming device, it must be thoroughly heated.
  • Remember the two-hour rule: throw food out after it has been on the buffet for two hours.
  • Another safe option is to place small amounts of food out and refill them often.

Many of us travel with food to our holiday destination. It is crucial to pack perishables directly from the refrigerator or freezer into a cooler. Add a refrigerator thermometer to the cooler to see if a safe temperature is maintained. Promptly making and serving the food upon arrival will help ensure the food has not been temperature abused.

When transporting hot foods, please keep them in an insulated container to keep product at safe temperatures. The time limit should not exceed two hours. At the end of the party, handle leftovers carefully. Cool them as quickly as possible and then store them in a refrigerator. Items kept at room temperature more than two hours must be thrown out. Leftovers that have been kept at proper temperatures should be put in small containers and refrigerated.

Eat leftovers within three days or package them for the freezer. If there is a large amount of food left, send it home with family and friends so everyone can enjoy this wonderful feast in a safe and timely manner.  Remember to clean food preparation areas and wash hands frequently, when handling food. It’s time to prepare and enjoy your holiday buffet!

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