Use your food safety savvy at party buffets
Ensure hot foods are hot and cold foods are cold before eating foods at a buffet.
“How many people should we expect?” I asked my daughter.
I was working on the menu for our daughter’s graduation party two years ago.
“I think 150 will come over,” she replied.
I nearly fainted. Why hadn’t I rented a hotel space and had the event catered?
She wanted the party at our house, though.
At 2 p.m. on the “big day,” she waited by the door. Only one person showed up on time. She was quite nervous that people forgot about her party. I was, too. She began texting.
At 2:15, her teenage friends began arriving in long lines that continued for the next three hours. Fortunately, the day was nice enough for outdoor seating.
I spent my time in the kitchen making my daughter’s favorite hot ham and cheese sandwiches with help from my older kids.
As soon as we placed a pan of sandwiches on the table, they were consumed. We made enough food and had enough refrigeration.
To read more of Julie Garden-Robinson's Prairie Fare, click here.
Our daughter’s friends began asking for the recipes, so I knew we had been successful in our menu planning.
With a three-hour party, the last thing I wanted to do was to make people sick. With high school graduation parties for my kids just a memory for us, I can’t help but be a “health inspector” whenever I am near buffets at parties.
You need to be discreet, though. Don’t let people know you are inspecting. Let your eyes sweep the table.
Unfortunately, by writing this, I probably have eliminated all future party invitations.
Here are some tips to consider when you are the guest.
Arrive close to the beginning of the party time. Then you know the food has just been placed on the table.
Assess the situation. Are hot foods being held hot? Slow cookers or chafing dishes with a fuel source to hold hot foods hot are options. Hot foods should be maintained at 140 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
Are cold foods being kept cold? Check that salads, fresh fruits and vegetables, and other perishable foods are nested in bowls on ice. Some inflatable “rafts” to fill with ice are available. If all the ice has melted, you have a good indicator that the food has been out a while.
No, I do not bring a food thermometer along with me, by the way. That would be just plain weird. If I am doubtful about the safety of any food, I do not put it on my plate.
Typically, perishable food such as meat sandwiches, salads, and cut fruits and vegetables are safe for about two hours at room temperature, also known as the “temperature danger zone.” That time frame includes preparation time.
During an outdoor event on a hot day (over 90 degrees), the time frame for perishable food is just one hour.
Are there small menu signs so people know what the dish is and any allergens it contains? As a best practice, list any of the nine major allergens that might be present (wheat, eggs, milk, peanuts, etc.). If you purchased the food, the package will list the allergens under the ingredient list.
If food is served outdoors where flies and other insects may be lurking, be sure to keep the food covered and protected.
Check if there are serving utensils such as tongs and spoons. I have been at countless events where the cracker, chips or cookies have no serving utensils nearby. Bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods is a food safety risk. Provide a barrier between hands and food.
If ice is provided for beverages, look for a large spoon or plastic scoop. You do not want people using glassware to scoop ice, or you could have a physical hazard from the ice in your beverage.
Remember that ice is food. If cans or bottles are kept in an ice chest, be sure that ice in the chest is not added to beverages. The outsides of cans and bottles can be contaminated. If you scoop ice with a used plastic cup, you also could contaminate the ice.
Are the hosts who are serving food keeping their hair pulled back? Whenever I teach food safety classes, people always note that hair is the most disgusting thing to find in food. Avoid the potential for hair in food.
You can see hair, but you cannot see bacteria and other germs, which are far more hazardous. Ensure anyone serving or preparing food follows proper handwashing and other food safety protocols.
For more food safety and food allergen information written from the perspective of the person preparing the food, see www.ag.ndsu.edu/food and click on “Food Safety.”
This tasty chocolate dip is a nice addition to fresh strawberries that are in season in May.
Chocolate Nut Butter Fruit Dip
- 1 cup non-fat vanilla Greek yogurt
- ½ cup almond butter or peanut butter
- ½ cup Nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread)
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
In a medium mixing bowl, mix together yogurt, almond butter, Nutella, honey and vanilla. Serve and enjoy with fruit and/or Nilla wafers or graham crackers.
Makes eight servings. Each serving has 230 calories, 14 grams (g) fat, 7 g protein, 20 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber and 75 milligrams sodium.
Julie Garden-Robinson 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