Food Safety Guidelines for Community Meals and Gatherings
Bowling Green, (November, 2011) – According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food-borne disease causes illness in about 1 out of 6 US-Americans, 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths each year. If you are planning an upcoming community dinner or family gathering, one must understand the importance of safe food preparation, handling, and service.
When organizing a community dinner be sure to select a reliable person to be in charge, one who can oversee preparation, service and who will contact the local health department in regards to any rules and regulations for serving food to large groups.
Be sure to select a location which can accommodate your food preparation and storage needs. Does the location provide ovens, refrigerators, freezers, source of clean water and adequate holding equipment?
Ensure that family members and or volunteers wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds prior to handling food during any stage of preparation. Use separate work areas for raw and cooked food, and never place cooked food back on the same plate or cutting board that held raw food.
When cooking food for large group gatherings, be sure to defrost food properly. You should thaw food in the refrigerator. Allow approximately 1 day for every 4 to 5 pounds when thawing in a refrigerator. Never thaw food at room temperature; never thaw food in the microwave unless it will be cooked immediately afterward.
You should cook food to the safe minimum internal temperatures using a food thermometer to check the temperatures of meat, poultry and casseroles. Poultry should be cooked to a minimum safe internal temperature of 165oF. Reheat food thoroughly to 165oF or until hot and steaming, reheat gravies and sauces until they come to a boil.
Never partially cook food for finishing later because this could increase the risk of bacteria growth.
Transport food safely by keeping hot food HOT and cold food COLD. Avoid the temperature “Danger Zone”; which is between 41oF and 135o F. Place hot foods in an insulated container and cold foods in a cooler with a cold source such as ice. Keep cold food in refrigerators, coolers or on ice, remember cold food should be held at 40oF or colder.
Leftovers can be kept in the refrigerator between 3 to 4 days at 40o F or below and for 4 to 6 months in a freezer at 0o F or below. Keep hot food in heated chaffing dishes, preheated steam tables or slow cookers after they have reached minimum internal temperatures.
Brad Espen, Environmental Health Director, states that in order to be food safe, one must remember the four following words “CLEAN, SEPARATE, COOK and CHILL”. CLEAN your hands, utensils and surfaces before preparation. SEPARATE raw and cooked foods and use multiple stations for food preparation to avoid cross-contamination. COOK food to proper internal temperatures using a thermometer to ensure safe temperatures are reached. Attempt to reduce time between cooking and serving to avoid growth of harmful bacteria. CHILL leftover food promptly, using small food safe containers and keep refrigerators at or below 40o F. Remember when in doubt, throw it out!
Observing these friendly food safety reminders can help ensure that any family or community gathering is safe for all those attending.
For additional information on food safety and community gatherings, please contact the Wood County Health Department toll free at 866-861-9338.