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Hosts need to be sure buffet-style meals follow food safety recommendations

BLACKSBURG, Va., Aug. 24, 2007 – All cooks want all their guests to enjoy themselves and so they make sure all the food-safety recommendations are followed when they prepare a meal. Serving foods buffet-style at meals or parties has special food-safety hazards, but these hazards are easy to overcome.

Holiday parties and get-togethers are often informal and casual. Serving buffet-style is the best way to have the guests and the hosts all enjoy themselves. Since food could be out in room temperature longer at these kinds of events than at a traditional meal, Virginia Tech food-safety experts listed the cautions for the hosts.

“Cooking for a party or a large group, where the food is to be served buffet-style means the cooks have to do a little more preplanning,” said Renee Boyer, consumer food-safety specialist for Virginia Cooperative Extension. “Those preparing the food need to be sure the food is cooked to the proper temperature – and that hot foods are kept hot and cold foods are kept cold – in order to prevent the growth of harmful microorganisms.”

First, the foods have to be heated to the proper temperature, Boyer said. The foods that are most sensitive are gravies, meat dishes, and casseroles. The U.S. Department of Agriculture website has fact sheets that list of the temperature a food must reach to be safe. Cooks need to check the food with a thermometer to be sure it has reached that temperature.

Then, the food has to be kept at a safe temperature while it is out for guests. This means it should stay at least 140 degrees F or above for hot food and 40 degrees F or below for cold food.

There are many serving platters available that use steam trays or sterno-type fuel that can keep the food hot enough to be safe. Keeping the food cold requires some special arrangements of dishes. Trays filled with ice cubes are the best way in a home setting.

Cooks must make sure the food is kept refrigerated until the last moment before serving and put back into the refrigerator before the food has been out in room temperature longer than the suggested two hours. This two-hour recommendation includes the preparation time.

Contact: Renee Boyer
Consumer Food Safety Specialist
Virginia Cooperative Extension
Virginia Tech
(540) 231-4330

Contact: Michael Sutphin
Communications and Marketing
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Virginia Tech
(540) 231-6975