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Mega Meals — Food Safety in Five Steps

Contributors: Sarah Klemm, RDN, CD, LDN

Published: April 05, 2019

Reviewed: February 28, 2019

big family dinner
Thomas Jackson/Digital Vision/Thinkstock 

Cooking for a crowd isn’t the same as cooking for yourself. You’re preparing more food for more people, which may increase the risk for food poisoning. When cooking and preparing food for your next family reunion, church function or other group gathering, follow these important steps for a safely prepared mega meal everyone can enjoy.

1. Make a plan

  • If you are preparing food at an event site, make sure you have appropriate appliances available to cook and store the food, as well as ample work space.
  • When transporting food, keep hot and cold foods at safe temperatures:
    • Hot food must be kept at or above 140°F and should be wrapped well and placed in an insulated container. Food may be held in an oven, on a serving line in heated chafing dishes, in warming trays and in slow cookers. Just be sure food remains at or above 140°F.
    • Cold food must be kept at or below 40°F and placed in a cooler filled with ice or ice packs. Food that will be portioned and served on the serving line should be held in a shallow container and placed inside a deep pan filled partially with ice to keep food cold. Drain off water as ice melts and replace ice frequently.

2. Separate

  • Raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs should be prepared on separate surfaces from ready-to-eat foods like vegetables and bread. Never place cooked or ready-to-eat food on the same surface as raw food.

3. Keep everything clean.

  • Frequently wash food prep surfaces and all dishes and utensils with hot, soapy water.
  • Wash hands with soap and warm water for a minimum of 20 seconds before and after handling food.

4. Cook it all the way

  • Cook food to a safe temperature to destroy harmful bacteria. Use a food thermometer to check for doneness.
  • Food should always be cooked completely. The risk of foodborne illness increases with improperly cooked food.

5. Store it fast or discard it.

  • Perishable food should be refrigerated or frozen within two hours of purchase or preparation and within one hour if the temperature is above 90°F.
  • Leftovers should be refrigerated or placed in the freezer immediately.

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