Eating and drinking with friends and family members isn’t just for holidays and game days.
In many parts of the country, sharing a meal and fellowship happens every week. People come together with a dish of food and the joy of being a member of the community.
Detective Foodsafe® also enjoys being in the company of friends and family but knows all too well the dangers sharing potluck meals can bring.
No one wants to get others sick from the food they bring to the table to share, but Detective Foodsafe warns that even well-meaning cooks can share dangerous pathogens that can make others ill from food poisoning.
If you haven’t been to a potluck supper before, Detective Foodsafe will be happy to share the ways in which even the most tasty potluck can turn sour.
Because a potluck supper entails people cooking foods in one location and transporting them to another, often hours later, the possibility of the growth of foodborne pathogens is great.
Time and Temperature
Detective Foodsafe reminds us that foods can only be held out of their temperature safety zone for two hours before the growth of germs can cause food poisoning.
Many people either forget how much time has elapsed between preparation and eating of their plates and platters or aren’t even aware that there is a potential food safety danger.
Despite the fact that 48 million people are victims of food poisoning each year and 128,000 people will become ill enough to seek treatment at a hospital — or, worse, 3,000 people die from foodborne illness each year — many people remain unaware how what they cook in their own kitchens can infect others.
The act of transporting foods can open them up to risk because they generally aren’t held in hot or cold storage conditions while transported or while waiting to be served before the event. In addition, they can also sit on the serving line a long time before the last portion is taken.
Guests bring everything from soup to nuts, so both cold storage and hot storage is important for food safety throughout the entire process.
How many times have you seen cold food that is almost melting from the heat while it sits on the buffet line? Do you put your cold foods over ice while on the serving table? Was it in a cooler on ice during its transport from wherever it was prepared?
Do you ever see anyone reheating their plate before it is placed on the serving line to bring it back up to a safe temperature? Was it held in a warming device during transport?
Does anyone at the event have a food thermometer to test the temperatures? Does anyone besides Detective Foodsafe think this is a good idea?
Another way in which foods brought by people to a potluck meal could create a situation where food safety is at risk is when something could potentially contaminate the food they bring.
How many people put their dishes in their trunk? What did they store in there before they put in the food? Did they transport garbage, dirty clothes, old cardboard boxes, or sports bags right off the ball field?
Will the potential dirt and debris mistakenly wind up in the dish? It could easily join the food under the covered dish (or uncovered dish! Yuck). Is it possible that something cold fall into the dish during or after it is prepared before it arrives to the event?
Do you trust everyone at the event to keep the cat off their kitchen counter during food preparation? Is their kitchen counter as clean and sanitized as you might keep yours at home?
Did the person who made the food to share with the group wash their hands before and during meal preparation? Did they use the same cutting board for the chicken and the cheese slicing?
Can You Enjoy a Potluck without Tummy Trouble?
Detective Foodsafe proceeds with caution when eating any food, whether at home, a restaurant, or buffet in the community. That doesn’t mean that she doesn’t partake in the festivities, just that she does so carefully.
You can find ways to keep yourself and those whom you share the meal safe with a few of her tips.
Help take control of the potluck by helping others keep their dishes as safe as possible.
- Provide ice trays or pot warmers or chafing dishes that can hold the food at its proper temperature and avoid the temperature danger zone.
- Be sure there are plenty of serving utensils – one for each item, to prevent cross contamination.
- If this is an ongoing event, provide education about food safety, such as you can find at Foodsafety.gov, to participants.
- Provide handwashing stations for guests to use before eating.
- Instead of bringing food one week, bring food thermometers to test foods so appropriate action can be taken to prevent the spread of foodborne illness.
- If the party goes beyond two hours, pack up leftovers. Don’t let people serve themselves from food that has exceeded the two-hour rule.
Detective Foodsafe knows that foods which are mishandled, even unknowingly, can cause food poisoning.
Most people would agree that illness is not what they want to share with their community of friends and family.
Simple changes and a little planning can help you enjoy the festivities too!