Madison County Extension Service: Food Safety For Holiday Buffets

Buffet style is one of the most popular ways to serve food at Thanksgiving and other holiday parties.  It is easy, you place all of the food on a table or counter top and let guests serve themselves to a wonderful feast. However, this type of food service, where foods are left out for long periods of time, leaves the door open for uninvited guests – bacteria that cause foodborne illness.  Festive times for giving and sharing should not include sharing foodborne illness. Before you serve your Thanksgiving dinner next week, here are a few tips from the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline to help you have a food safe holiday party.
Safe Food Handling – Always wash your hands before and after handling food.  Also keep your kitchen counters, dishes and utensils clean. Serve food on clean plates – not those previously holding raw meat and poultry. Otherwise, bacteria which may have been present in raw meat juices can cross contaminate the food to be served.
Cook Thoroughly – If you are cooking food a day or two ahead of time, be sure to cook it thoroughly to a safe temperature. The best way to determine the correct temperature is to invest in a food thermometer. Cook fresh roast beef, veal and lamb to at least 145°F for medium rare and 160°F for medium doneness. Bake whole poultry to 180° F, poultry breast to 170°F. Ground turkey and poultry should be cooked to 160°F.
Store Shallow Containers – If you prepare food a day or two in advance, divide cooked food into shallow containers to store in the refrigerator or freezer until serving. This encourages rapid, even cooling. Use this same practice the day of your meal when food is being put out buffet style. Reheat hot foods to 165° F. Arrange and serve food on several small platters rather than one large platter.  Keep the rest of the food hot in the oven (set at 200°F – 250°F) or cold in the refrigerator until serving time.  By using these serving methods, food will be held at a safe temperature for a longer period of time. Also, it is a good idea to replace empty platters with fresh ones rather than adding food to a dish that already had food in it. By the time food needs to be replenished, the plate or serving dish has been sitting out at room temperature for a period of time and many hands may have more than likely handled the food, two risk factors for increased bacteria growth.
The Two-Hour Rule – Foods should not sit at room temperature for more than two hours.  Keep track of how long foods have been sitting on the buffet table and discard anything that has been sitting out for two hours or more.
Keep Hot Foods HOT and Cold Foods COLD – Hot foods should be held at 140°F 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 40°F or colder. Keep foods cold by nesting dishes in bowls of ice. Otherwise, use small serving trays and replace them.
Bacteria is everywhere and grows very rapidly at room temperature, you don’t want them crashing your holiday meal. Unlike microorganisms that cause food to spoil, harmful bacteria that causes food borne illness cannot be seen, and has no taste or odor. Prevention means taking steps to handle food safely and taking precautions to correctly serve and hold food at the correct temperatures to reduce the risk of spoiling your dinner party.  For more information on food safety, contact the Madison County Extension Service.
The University of Florida Extension/IFAS – Madison County is an Equal Employment Opportunity Institution.
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