Wash your hands! This may sound like your mother speaking but it’s worth repeating. Wash your hands! Vigorous rubbing with soapy bubbles for one verse of “Happy Birthday” is what really does the trick.
Keep Cold Foods Cold and Hot Foods Hot. Forget what you’ve been told about mayonnaise in the potato salad and all that. Proper temperature control is the single most important thing you can do to prevent foodborne illness. The danger zone is 4°C to 60°C (40°F to 140°F) which means that hot or cold foods should not remain in that zone for more than 2 hours. How do you know what the temperature is? Measure it with an instant read thermometer (preferably one that you can calibrate). Remember to wash it between dishes so that you don’t cross contaminate anything. Once your dish has reached that zone, the bacterial clock is ticking and you’ve got 2 hours before it’s time to chill out, chill down, and put it away. Make use of crock pots and chafing dishes for hot foods. For cold foods you can use dip and bowl chillers or set a dish inside of a larger bowl or tray of ice.
Time for a Tupperware Party. Once the party’s over you’ll want to rapidly chill any hot foods by spreading them out in wide containers with the lids off to allow the heat to escape. Avoid placing large containers of food in the frig because once you overload it with the leftover bounty of your banquet, you greatly reduce its ability to maintain a proper temperature. Refrigerators work best when there’s air space inside for circulation. Consider keeping non perishable items like pop, beer, and wine in an ice filled cooler to free up some space. Always keep raw meat and seafood at the bottom of your frig so that you don’t run the risk of any juices dripping onto other foods. Invest in some frig thermometers to keep tabs on things. A refrigerator should stay at 4°C (40°F) or cooler; a freezer at -18°C (0°F) or colder. Your pantry should be dry and between 10°C to 21°C (50°F to 70°).
Feeding the Troops. The balancing act is to try to cook only as much food as you’ll need. If you’re like my mother-in-law and have a tendency to cook enough food for your entire block then try this catering tip. Put out smaller bowls of salads, dips, and salsas rather than the entire batch and rotate with fresh bowls when they run low. Make use of snacks, crackers, and breads that don’t require refrigeration and keep things like canned beans on hand so you can toss together a bean salad in a jiffy in case the table runs bare. Prepare things like toppings, spreads, fillings, sauces, dips, and salads well ahead of time so that they have a chance to chill thoroughly in the refrigerator before you finish or serve the dish.
Check out Everyday Food Safety Tips from the Peterborough County-City Health Unit.