Preparing food for your party

Find out best practices for food safety for when you host a party.

Food Poisoning isn’t the type of “gift” that you want your guests to leave your party with. Many foodborne illnesses occur as a result of poor food handling at home – not just at the local restaurants. Think about your practices and what you can do to minimize the risk of food poisoning. The are some important precautions you should take when hosting a party.

Prepare food as if all of your guests have a weakened immune system and are susceptible. You may not know if any of them are taking medications or have a medical condition that would make it easy for them to get sick. The single most important thing you can do is wash hands often – in between tasks, after handling the garbage, after wiping your nose or after petting a dog. Are you having finger food or a sit-down meal? Think about how long the food will be sitting out and if you need to use a tool to keep hot food hot or cold food cold. What foods need to be kept cold/hot? 

Party food that is prone to bacteria when left at room temperature too long:

  • Meat – deli or prepared cuts of meat/fish/poultry
  • Dairy products – cheese trays
  • Shellfish – shrimp cocktail
  • Cooked rice, beans or potatoes – salads, soups or mashed potatoes
  • Sprouts and raw seeds – used in salads
  • Eggs/egg dishes – deviled eggs
  • Sliced melon and other fruit – fruit trays
  • Soy protein foods - prepared tofu
  • Sandwiches
  • Salads and salad bar items
  • Anything that needs to be stored in the refrigerator should be kept cold (less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit)

There are some other things to keep in mind, such as following the 2 hour rule, meaning you must chill food not eaten within 2 hours. Watch for cross-contamination. for example, don’t use the same cutting board for raw meat, as you would for vegetables, and clean and sanitize utensils between use. Do not prepare food if you are sick, especially if symptoms such as fever, diarrhea and vomiting are present, enlist the help of other family or friends. Make sure you don’t let animals in the food prep area, and especially do not let them on the countertop.

If you are preparing food in advance of your party, make sure you cool food down as quickly as possible. You have 2 hours to cool food from 135 F to 70 F, then 4 more hours to cool food to 40 F. This may mean dividing the soup into smaller containers or chilling it in an ice bath. Thaw food in the refrigerator, under cool running water, in the microwave (as long as it will be cooked immediately), or as part of the cooking process – do not thaw on the countertop.

Also, ensure you don’t use a crock pot to re-heat food, but it can be used to cook food or hold hot food. Don’t use a sauce that was previously used as a marinade to marinate raw meat or use it as a serving sauce (unless it was part of the cooking process).

Cook meat to the proper internal temperature. If you are involved with serving food to crowds, Michigan State University Extension offers Cooking for Crowds classes, which offers practical food safety tips for the lay person. Contact your local MSU Extension office to find out more.

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