Potluck food safety: Don’t bring uninvited germs to your party

Potlucks are great places to hang out with friends and family and eat some great food. But if you don’t follow food safety, they can also be places for trouble. 

Cooking for potlucks or large groups means you need to take extra steps to keep food safe. The large numbers of people, crowded space and buffet-style food set-up can spell a recipe for disaster.

You can get sick when germs are present on the food you eat. This is called food poisoning and can make you feel really sick. Germs can get on food at any point during food handling, cooking or storage. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that over 48 million Americans get food poisoning every year. The risk is highest for young children, seniors and pregnant women.

But there are many ways to keep your next potluck event more yum than yuck.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says food safety begins at the sink. Make sure to wash your hands before making food and always wash fruits and vegetables before use. Use clean counter space, utensils and storage containers for your food. Never re-use cutting boards or knives that have been used with raw meat before washing.

Some dishes make better party guests than others. The Food and Drug Administration says egg-containing dishes like mayonnaise, homemade Caesar salad dressing, chocolate mousse and deviled eggs need extra care. Make sure to keep these dishes in the fridge right until party time. It’s best if you can put out small portions of these foods. That way, you can replace the plate with fresh food from the fridge or cooler throughout the party.

When transporting and serving — avoid the danger zone! Bacteria can quickly multiply in temperatures between 40 degrees and 140 degrees. So keep food above or below these temperatures. To keep foods hot, use warming plates or slow cookers and to keep it cold, use ice. Have small spoons ready for dips or sauces to keep people from dipping food directly in these shared bowls.

Stick to the two-hour rule: Food should not be left out at room temperature for more than two hours, according to USDA. After two hours, food should be thrown away. If the event is outside and the temperature is over 90 degrees, throw out after one hour. If in doubt, throw it out.

To keep your next event safe, spread the word and dish out this advice to others bringing food to the party!

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