How to Avoid Food Poisoning at Your Next Potluck
From casseroles to desserts, bring joy — not illness — to your potluck party
A potluck dinner is one of the easiest parties to throw, and who doesn't love a buffet bursting with their friends' and relatives' best recipes? But a potluck isn't so lucky if a foodborne illness finds its way to the party. It takes only one person who failed to wash his or hands before cooking or to use safe food prep practices to make the whole gang sick with food poisoning.
Whether you're hosting the party or contributing a dish, make sure no one leaves with more than leftovers.
In the kitchen
- Wash your hands with warm water and soap before you start cooking. If you sneeze, cough or touch your face while cooking, wash them again.
- Cut and slice raw meat and vegetables on separate cutting boards and using separate knives to avoid cross-contamination, advises the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Clean cutting boards throughly after using them. Here's how.
- Use a meat thermometer to check the temperature of all your dishes to make sure they're fully cooked. FoodSafety.gov shows you the right cooking temperatures for everything from poultry to pork.
- Scrub produce with a vegetable brush and rinse well to remove dirt and bacteria, recommends the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
If you're sick with any kind of stomach bug, don't cook, even if you promised to bring a dish. "When someone preparing food is sick with an acute gastrointestinal illness, it is very likely that they could unintentionally contaminate the food and spread their illness to all who eat it," writes the Orange County Environmental Health Food Protection Program on its website.
At the party
Here are a few tips from the CDC and USDA on how to keep casserole dishes bacteria-free during a potluck.
- If you're transporting food to a party and you live more than a few miles away, keep hot foods hot (use an insulated bag) and cold foods cold (put them in a cooler).
- Refrigerate cooked food until party time. Leave cold dishes in the fridge until it's time to serve them. Once guests start arriving, reheat foods meant to be served hot or warm in the oven to 165 degrees F.
- If you reheat food in the microwave, let it stand for a minute before serving so it can finish cooking.
- During the party, keep hot foods at 140 degrees F or warmer by keeping them in crockpots or using chafing dishes. To keep cold foods cold, set them on ice cube trays or nesting dishes in bowls of ice.
- Replace empty platters and serving dishes rather than adding food to empty ones. As the USDA puts it, "Many people's hands may have been taking food from the dish, which has also been sitting out at room temperature."
- Discard any perishable food that sits out at room temperature for longer than two hours. If you're a guest and you brought a dish, don't take home the leftovers if the food wasn't kept hot or cold during the party.
- Store leftovers in shallow tupperware containers in the refrigerator. Eat them within four days, advises the CDC.
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