Potlucks can be Tricky. Here are some Hints to Prevent Food Poisoning
It isn’t uncommon that at least once or twice a year, the average American has attended a potluck. Whether it be a “get to know your coworkers” event, a family get-together, or even a birthday party or holiday celebration of some kind, potlucks are quite common and considered very conventional in American culture. But what many don’t realize is that potlucks can be dangerous, and the risk of becoming ill with food poisoning is increased tenfold.
Why is this the case for many potlucks? Well, for one, you can’t trust that your fellow “food-bringers” are necessarily educated in following proper food safety protocols when preparing their food. You also have no control over what they do in their own kitchens or how food was transported to the “event.” For example, most dishes need to be cooked to a certain temperature in order for it to be considered safe to eat. And once cooked, there is something called a “two-hour rule” – a “general” rule-of-thumb in food safety. Pursuant to this rule, food can only be “safely” left sitting out at room temperature for approximately two hours before the food is considered unsafe to eat. Transport times alone can be lengthy in many situations, and hot/cold holding temperatures are often ignored or difficult o maintain. An addition concern for many potlucks is that dishes are left outside in hot temperatures, particularly on hot summer days, and in 90 degree weather the rule becomes a “one-hour rule”.
If you want to keep your food edible for longer than that, then it is important that the guests have formed a plan that involves keeping the hot food hot and the cold food cold. This means that when you cook a dish that is meant to stay hot, it is important that after it is cooked it is kept in a place where it can remain at least 140 degrees. And if you have prepared a dish that is meant to stay cold, it is important that the dish remains under 40 degrees. This means coolers and warmers.
SUGGESTION: You may consider keeping food service station inside a building hat is cooler, and has access to refrigeration and electricity, even if the food is then consumed outside.
Another important thing to remember is that if you are sick, it is best not to handle any food (even if you aren’t sick, remember to wash your hands!). Have someone else serve the food, and remember to bring tongs and other serving utensils so no one has to use their hands to pick up the food. One common mistake that is made during these type of events is that people rely on just using their hands to serve themselves and end up contaminating the food with whatever bacteria is on their hands and subsequently making others ill.
Finally, another tip that should come in handy is covering your food. After everyone has finished serving their plates (or even if its more of an “open” food service situation), don’t just leave food sitting out uncovered. While not a substitution for proper holding temperatures, it is best to move the food into shallow dishes and make sure it is completely covered.
If these food safety rules aforementioned above have been followed, then your potluck event will be much safer than those that have come before.