Keep food safety on the menu for spring events

Follow food safety tips to protect your guests from foodborne illness.

Black bean salsa with corn and tomatoes in a glass dish, surrounded by small round tortilla chips.
This colorful salsa makes a nutritious addition to event menus. <br/><br/><br/><br/>
Contributed / NDSU photo

“Do you know all these people?” I asked my daughter quietly.

My daughter was at the door welcoming another long line of teenagers for her graduation party at our home last spring.

“Yes, I do,” she replied. She was a bit annoyed at my question.

I was glad they were celebrating her accomplishment, and I was happy she had so many friends.

However, I was a little worried about the amount of food I had prepared. Long lines of kids were showing up at our door.


Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service
Julie Garden-Robinson
Courtesy / NDSU Extension Service

“They heard the food is good here,” my daughter commented.

She knows just what to say.

My daughter had two special requests: homemade fancy cupcakes and hot ham and cheese slider sandwiches. I had added trays of veggies and fruit, various dips, chips and another type of sandwich.

I had prepared at least 200 cupcakes and sandwiches. We were serving trays of hot sandwiches every 10 minutes. I was wondering if we’d need to order in some pizzas.

My husband had other concerns.

“I hope we are not hosting a COVID super-spreader event,” my husband commented under his breath.

He had led a group of 12 teens to the serving area.

By the end of the party, at least 150 people had visited our home. I had no reports of illnesses. Fortunately, I had food to spare and the outside weather cooperated.


The teenagers especially enjoyed the cupcakes, fruit and sandwiches.

The fruits and vegetables added color and nutrition to the buffet. The chips, crackers and various dips added crunch and variety.

I was trying to balance the fat and calories in the sandwiches and cupcakes.

The food was moving off the serving table quickly, so I was not concerned about food safety issues.

Unfortunately, our guests were not as enamored with the turkey tortilla roll-up sandwiches I had purchased. Hot sandwiches were preferred over cold.

Whenever you are cooking for groups, you have some special considerations for food safety. Any time food is in the danger zone (room temperature), bacteria can grow in perishable foods such as cut fruit and meat sandwiches.

Some of the leading causes of foodborne illness outbreaks include failing to cool food properly, food not held hot enough, food prepared ahead of time and not held at proper temperatures, cross contamination, and food left too long in the “danger zone” (41 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit).

If you are an occasional quantity cook for any upcoming spring and summer events, check out the NDSU Extension publication, “Cooking for Groups,” by searching online for “NDSU Extension Cooking for Groups.”


The guide takes you from purchasing food to cooking, serving and storing.

These are some of the food safety tips to keep in mind when serving a crowd.

  • Keep cold foods cold. Place cold food such as dips, cut fruits and vegetables in containers nested in ice. Your cold food should be maintained at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Be sure to drain water as ice melts and replace the ice frequently.
  • Keep hot foods hot. Once food is thoroughly heated by stovetop, oven or microwave oven, keep food hot by using a heat source. Place food in chafing dishes, preheated steam tables, warming trays, and/or slow cookers. Check the temperature frequently to be sure food stays at or above 140 F.
  • Discard any food left out at room temperature for more than two hours. Immediately refrigerate or freeze remaining leftovers in shallow containers.

Here’s a colorful, nutritious dip to serve at spring and summer gatherings. You can find many recipes for sliders online. Make plenty if you are serving teens.

Black Bean Salsa

1 10-ounce frozen bag of corn (or substitute 15-ounce can of corn, drained)
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 large tomatoes, finely chopped
1 large red onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons white sugar
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/2 teaspoon lime juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

In a large bowl, combine first six ingredients. In a smaller bowl, whisk together spices, oil and lime juice. Measure remaining ingredients and mix all items. Cover and refrigerate for an hour. Stir prior to serving.

Makes 11 servings (2/3 cup serving size). Each serving has 100 calories, 3 grams fat, 3 grams protein, 16 grams carbohydrate, 4 grams fiber and 110 milligrams sodium.


Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences. Follow her on Twitter @jgardenrobinson.

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