Mega Meals - Food Safety in Five Steps

Reviewed by Wendy Marcason, RDN
big family dinner

Thomas Jackson/Digital Vision/Thinkstock

Cooking for a crowd is not the same as cooking at home. You are preparing more food for more people, which may result in an increased risk of 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 the food at the site of an event, 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 or on a serving line in heated chafing dishes, or on preheated steam tables, warming trays and/or 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 icepacks. Food that will be portioned and served on the serving line should be placed in a shallow container, and embedded 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 that held 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. To ensure adequate cooking temperatures are reached, use a food thermometer.
  • Food should always be cooked completely. The risk of bacterial growth increases in 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 weather is above 90°F.
  • Leftovers should be refrigerated or placed in the freezer immediately.

Find an Expert

Need serious help making a plan? The nutrition experts in our professional membership are ready to help you create the change to improve your life.

Find an Expert