You are probably asking what unwanted guests. I’m talking about Salmonella, E. coli, Staphyloccus aureus, and other pathogens – those unseen harmful microbes that might be lurking in the foods you serve to your guests.
How do you stop these unwanted guests?
- Keep foods hot
- Keep foods cold
- Keep foods (and everything around it) clean
Why these three things?
Bacteria have temperatures where they multiple rapidly in perishable foods. Dubbed the “Danger Zone,” this temperature range is from 40°F to 140°F. Perishable food should not remain in the Danger Zone for longer than 2 hours. Perishable foods include meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, eggs, and cooked and raw veggies and fruits. Items that can be left at room temperature are breads, chips, pretzels, cereal mixes, nuts, pickles, cookies, cakes (without cream fillings), fruit pies (not cream or custard type), jams and jellies, candy, and dried meats, fruits and veggies.
Bacteria and viruses don’t have a way to move from one item to another without hitching a ride. They can hitch a ride on our body, especially our hands, and anything that comes into contact with them such as utensils and containers.
What can you specifically do to protect yourself and your guests?
Hot food should be held at a temperature of 140°F or above. Crockpots, warming trays, and chafing dishes with a flame underneath are some of the ways to maintain an appropriate temperature, but check the temperature often to assure that the temperature is being maintained.
Cold food needs to be held at 40°F or below. Keep food cold by surrounding the container in crushed ice. Again, take the temperature of the food.
An alternative to keeping food hot and cold is to use time as a guide. Perishable food should not be left in the Danger Zone for longer than two hours. Hold the food in the oven or on the burner to keep it hot or in the refrigerator to keep it cold. Use a series of small serving containers and replace them often. Replace empty platters, don’t refill them. By refilling them, you are adding new food for the bacteria. Discard food that has been sitting out and that may have been handled by many people.
Wash hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before beginning food preparation and after handling food, using the bathroom, petting the dog, or cleaning your child’s face. Also, remember to remind guests who offer to help you replenish food on the buffet table to wash their hands. You can do this by showing them where to wash their hands and pointing out the soap and paper towels.
Use spoons, forks, tongs, spatulas, and paper to place food in serving containers. Also, provide similar items for guests to use in serving.
Finally, when in doubt, throw it out.
Dr. Sue Snider, Food Safety and Nutrition Specialist