Food safety rules do not have to be a burden

Follow these food safety tips to avoid foodborne illness at your next holiday gathering or potluck.

After attending an event recently where everyone brought dishes to share, I witnessed a person actually tasting from a serving spoon in one of the dishes and then returning the spoon to that dish. I’m not sure if they forgot they were sharing food with forty other people. Ironically,  at this same event, the person hosting was extremely concerned about food safety. They had taken concessions to have extra ice and coolers on hand to store leftover food and they were using an instant-read thermometer to temp check food as it was coming out of the oven. 

The next few weeks will offer many of us an opportunity to dine away from home, perhaps partaking in a potluck or eating from a buffet. Regardless of the type of event, it will be important to keep food safety practices in place. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Before handling food, tableware or food containers it is important to wash hands well with warm water and soap, and then dry with a paper towel.
  • When putting out fresh food, use new bowls of food rather than just adding fresh food to the same serving bowl. 
  • Make sure each food item on your table or buffet has a serving utensil specific to that food. Never use one utensil to serve several items of food. This prevents cross-contamination.
  • Utilize a spoon holder to prevent the utensil being placed back into the food if possible. If it remains in the food, make sure the handles are up and food can’t be touched by bare hands.
  • Avoid bare hand contact, this can lead to the spread of bacteria. If tongs, spoons or forks aren’t available, try toothpicks for finger foods. As a tray is filled, avoid bare hand contact by using a utensil, gloves or deli paper.
  • Avoid eating from your plate while you are in a food line. It is very easy to contaminate food with saliva spraying onto the serving bowls and platters. 
  • Place table cards by the food items so people know what is being served. This prevents someone from dipping a finger or spoon in for a “taste.”
  • If you are in a food line, remember your manners and try to avoid reaching across food items, or sneezing or coughing over the food. 
  • Help little ones fill their plates. This helps teach children the rules about food safety. Remind them to not use their hands and fingers around other people’s food.
  • Finally, it is important if returning for additional servings to use a clean plate. It is very easy to spread the norovirus virus by not using clean plates each time you return to the food table. Remember to leave your silverware at the table on a clean napkin or dish.

Planning an event doesn’t have to be overwhelming, just use common sense. Always keep an eye on the food spread, watch for the curious person who may have forgotten their food safety etiquette. Michigan State University Extension suggests keeping hot food hot and cold food cold, separating raw and ready to eat food from one another and keeping your work and serving areas clean.

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