Food safety for graduation celebrations

Don’t invite the bacteria that cause foodborne illness as guests to your graduation celebration.

Various food items in a buffet line.
Photo: BigStockPhoto.

Many folks are planning on hosting safe, outdoor graduation celebrations this spring and summer. Food can bring people together to celebrate the success of family and friends who are graduating from high school or college. While planning the invitation list, decorations and menu, Michigan State University Extension also encourages you to spend a few minutes making a plan for food safety at your event.

Often buffets are used during these events, but keep in mind that when foods are left in the temperature danger zone for long periods of time, bacteria can grow in the food and lead to foodborne illness when consumed. Food safety steps to follow at your celebration include:

  • Encourage thorough handwashing, especially for anyone who is involved in food preparation and serving.
  • When preparing food, be sure to cook items to a safe minimum internal temperature.
  • Once food has been cooked, if not serving immediately, divide into shallow containers to store in the refrigerator until time for serving. Shallow containers encourage rapid, even cooling.
  • Arrange and serve the food on several small platters rather than on one large platter.
  • Replace empty dishes and platters rather than adding fresh food to a dish that already had food in it.
  • Replace the serving utensil each time you replace an empty dish of food. 
  • Cold foods should be held at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder. Keep foods cold by nesting dishes in bowls of ice. Otherwise, use small serving trays and replace them often. Monitor the temperature with a food thermometer.
  • Hot foods should be held at 135 degrees or above. On the buffet table, you can keep hot foods hot by using a chafing dish, slow cooker, roasters or a warming tray. Monitor the temperature with a food thermometer.
  • Foods should not sit at room temperature for more than two hours or one hour if the air temperature is above 90 degrees. Keep track of how long foods have been sitting on the buffet table and discard anything there two hours or more.
  • Consider providing wrapped silverware and serving your guests to cut down on contact between guests.
  • Encourage guests to use a clean plate for each trip to the buffet.

Paying attention to these details will help you keep your food safe. A few extra steps in planning and preparing can ensure your celebration is a success. For more food safety information, visit MSU Extension's Safe Food & Water website.

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