Wedding food safety

Wedding plans can go awry if food safety isn’t factored into the big day.

Infographic by USDA
Infographic by USDA

Summer is a busy time for many, and if you are a bride and groom planning a wedding, it is even busier. A lot of planning goes into organizing everything for the big day, including food, and ensuring it is coming from a safe source should be a priority.

There have been numerous stories of wedding dinners where guests left with a foodborne illness, putting a large damper on what should have been a happy memorable day. In 2014, 74 out of 190 guests at a wedding reception in Rhode Island fell ill with gastrointestinal symptoms. Norovirus was later confirmed through diagnostic tests. Two years later in 2016, 100 people became ill with salmonella gastroenteritis, after consuming chicken at a catered wedding dinner in Alabama. 22 of these people were hospitalized, the catering company is currently not practicing. These stories are not something you want people to remember about your wedding. It is important to put some research into your caterer for your big day.

Don’t rely just on good taste, make tasteful decisions utilizing these seven food safety questions to ask your caterer according to

Are the staff members certified food handlers?

Ask if they are ServSafe certified.  If they are certified, this means they are all properly trained on safe food handling.

How do you transport food to the venue?

You want to ensure cold foods stay cold and hot foods (pre-prepared) stay hot. 

When/where is the food prepared?

If the food is prepared off-site, make sure the caterers know how to safely transport the food. If the food is prepared on-site, do the caterers have the appropriate tools they need to prepare and serve the food? 

How long after food — especially meat, poultry, seafood and eggs — is cooked is it brought out to guests?

Perishable foods should not sit out at room temperature for more than two hours.  It is important your caterer follows these guidelines to guarantee that guests are served a hot and, more importantly, safe meal.

How long does the buffet remain open and how will the caterer avoid the food entering the “temperature danger zone?”

Does the caterer to provide chafing dishes or warming trays to keep hot foods hot, and ice or another cold source to keep cold foods cold? Otherwise, food may enter the “temperature danger zone,” between 40 F and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, where bacteria multiply rapidly. Perishable foods should never be left in the “danger zone” for more than two hours; one hour in temperatures above 90 F. After two hours, food that has been sitting out should be discarded and replaced with fresh food.

Are there any potential allergens used in the preparation of the food?

Ask your caterer if there are any allergens in the dishes, including nuts, soy, milk, eggs, wheat and fish/shellfish. If there are, guests should be notified in some way.

Do you use a food thermometer to check that food is properly cooked?

The answer must be yes! No one – not even a caterer – can tell if meat is properly cooked by its color. They must use an instant-read thermometer.

If your family decides to cater the event themselves, consider reviewing the FSIS publication, Cooking for Groups. It offers guidelines on preparing large quantities of food. Families may also want to consider taking Michigan State University Extension’s Cooking for Crowds class. This program will provide food safety information to individuals who will be handling food for large groups. Michigan State University Extension encourages everyone involved in the special day to be aware of food safety guidelines and take them seriously.  Leaving the reception with a foodborne illness is not a memory you will treasure.

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