Food Safety

Party Platters and Buffets


holiday meals

A popular way to celebrate holidays or any party occasion is to invite friends and family to a buffet. However, this type of food service, where foods may be out for long periods leaves the door open for uninvited guests---bacteria that cause foodborne illness. Here are some tips for a safe buffet:

Safe Food Handling

Always wash your hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling food. Clean kitchen surfaces, dishes and utensils with hot water and soap. Always serve food on clean plates, never those previously holding raw meat and poultry. Bacteria that may have been present in raw meat or poultry can cross-contaminate the food to be served.

Ready to Cook a Feast

If you are cooking foods ahead of time for your party, be sure to cook foods thoroughly to safe internal temperatures.

Keep Hot Foods HOT and Cold Foods COLD

Hot foods should be held at 1400F or warmer. On the buffet table you can keep hot foods hot with chafing dishes, slow cookers and warming trays. Cold foods should be held at 400F or colder. Keep foods cold by nesting dishes in bowls of ice. If you buy party trays at the store, remove lid and fill with ice. Put the tray on the lid for a handy cooling station. Bacteria can also multiply quickly in moist desserts that contain dairy products. Keep eggnog, cheesecakes, cream pies and cakes with whipped-cream or cream-cheese frostings refrigerated until serving time.

Safely Sauced

Some sauces, dressings and even dessert recipes contain uncooked eggs. If your homemade recipes call for uncooked eggs, you can modify them by using pasteurized eggs, pasteurized egg product or cooking the egg mixture on the stovetop to 1600F, then follow the recipe’s directions.

The 2 – Hour Rule

Foods should not sit at room temperature for more than 2 hours. Keep track of how long foods have been sitting on the buffet table and discard anything there two hours or more.

Storing the Smorgasbord

Divide cooked foods into shallow containers to store in the refrigerator or freezer until serving.

This encourages rapid, even cooling. Reheat foods to 1650F. Arrange and serve food on several small platters rather than one large platter. You can prepare extra serving platters and dishes ahead of time, store them in the refrigerator or keep them hot in the oven (set at approximately 200 to 2500F) prior to serving.

The More the Merrier



When preparing for your special event, remember that there may be an invisible enemy ready to strike. It’s called BAC (foodborne bacteria), and it can make you sick. Lots of people and little time can create opportunities for mishandling and contamination. After the big party, remember to safely handle leftovers to prevent foodborne illness.

Plan Ahead

  • Make sure you have the right equipment, including cutting boards, utensils, food thermometers, cookware, shallow containers for storage, soap, and paper towels.
  • Plan on enough storage space in the refrigerator and freezer. In the refrigerator, air needs to circulate to keep the temperature at 400F or below. Use an appliance thermometer in your refrigerator to monitor the temperature.

When You Shop

  • Separate raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs from fruit, vegetables, other foods and cleaning supplies in your grocery shopping cart, grocery bags and in your refrigerator.
  • Check that fresh cut fruits and vegetables like packaged salads and precut melons are refrigerated at the store before purchasing. Do not buy fresh cut items that are not refrigerated.
  • Buy cold foods last. Plan to drive directly home from the grocery store. You may want to take a cooler with ice or frozen gel packs for perishables. Always refrigerate perishable food within two hours. Refrigerate within one hour when the temperature is above 900F.
  • Avoid canned goods that are dented, leaking, bulging or rusted. These are the warning signs that dangerous bacteria may be growing in the can.

Working in the Kitchen

  • Make sure that anyone who helps in the kitchen knows the basic food safety rules--- clean, separate, cook and chill.
  • Encourage everyone to wash his or her hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling food.
  • Sponges and kitchen towels can easily soak up bacteria and cross-contaminate kitchen surfaces and hands. When a crowd is over and food preparation gets hectic, it can be safer to use paper towels.
  • Try to keep the refrigerator door closed as much as possible to keep it safely at 400F or below.

Lovely Leftovers

  • Throw away all perishable foods, such as meat, poultry, eggs and casseroles, left at room temperature longer than two hours; one hour in air temperatures above 900F. This also includes leftovers taken from home from a restaurant. Some exceptions to this rule are foods such as cookies, crackers, bread and whole fruits.
  • Whole roasts, hams and turkeys should be sliced or cut into smaller pieces or portions before storing them in the refrigerator or freezer.
  • Refrigerate or freeze leftovers in shallow containers. Wrap or cover the food. Leftovers stored in the refrigerator should be consumed within 3 – 4 days, and leftovers should be heated to 1650F prior to consumption.
  • Foods stored longer may become unsafe to eat and cause foodborne illness. Do not taste leftovers that appear to be safe, bacteria that causes illness does not affect the taste, smell, or appearance of food.
  • Frozen storage times are much longer, but some items such as salads made with mayonnaise do not freeze well. Foods kept frozen longer than recommended storage times are safe to eat, but may be drier and not taste as good.

WHEN IN DOUBT, THROW IT OUT! for more information