Practice Potluck Food Safety this Summer

Stay healthy and avoid disease with simple summer food safety tips

Depending on how it’s handled, almost any food can make you ill including fresh produce, proteins or ready-to-eat foods like pasta or macaroni salads. If bacteria is on the food handler’s hands, it can be spread to the food.

That’s why the number one thing to remember when handling food is to KEEP THINGS CLEAN. Wash your hands, use a fresh cloth or towel every time you wipe down surfaces and wash your cutting tool thoroughly every time you begin prepping a new type of food. As Mike Austin, Director of Food Services in the Intermountain South Region, points out, “Every time you cut your food, you introduce a new surface for contamination.”

While cleanliness is a basic food safety practice, when it comes to temperature and food the rules become more complex.  “Proteins especially must be kept at the right temperature to help you avoid illness,” says Ann-Marie Shirley, a Food and Nutrition Educator at Utah Valley Hospital. “Both hot and cold foods have a time temperature safety window. If you stay within the window and practice safe heating and cooling techniques while you’re cooking, you’ll be fine.”

Tips for HOT food safety

  • Hot food is safe for four hours after it has finished cooking. So if you’re bringing a dish to a potluck, remember to subtract your travel time from the food safety window.
  • If hot food cools to a temperature between 41-140 degrees, it’s in the bacteria danger zone and should be thrown out after four hours. Use a chafing dish to keep food warm if you’re planning on serving a buffet.
  • If you properly cool food before the four hour window is over, you can serve hot foods again if they’re heated to 165 degrees to kill bacteria. Mike and Ann-Marie recommend reheating on the stove, in the oven or in a frying pan. If you choose to reheat the food, make sure you stir it so all the contents reach 165 degrees quickly and heat distribution is even.
  • Leftovers should be cooled properly as well. This mean cutting the food into smaller pieces, spreading food out and using shallow containers in order to cool food evenly.
  • You should also make sure you cook your protein sources until they reach a safe internal temperature. A meat thermometer is a good investment to help you judge when foods are done and safe to eat.

Tips for COLD food safety

  • Cold food shares the same bacterial danger zone as hot food (41-140 degrees).
  • Cold foods are safe to eat for six hours after they have been cooled to serving temperature.
  • If cold foods reach a temperature of 70 degrees, they should be thrown out no matter what.
  • When you’re cooking ingredients for a cold dish, make sure you cool all the ingredients to 41 degrees or lower before mixing the dish together. Use the cooling techniques listed above or run cold water over the cooked food to bring the internal temperature down quickly.
  • Coolers or bowls of ice will keep foods chilled to the appropriate temperature during your event.

Following these tips will help you avoid food-borne illnesses and keep your food safe not only in summer, but all year round.