Catering is one of the largest expenses in a wedding budget. Couples can often find themselves struggling to satisfy their visions of a dream wedding and finicky guests. Since no one wants their guest to become ill, it’s essential to keep food safety in mind when choosing a caterer.
The key is to follow good food safety guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. In preparation for any big meal, it’s a good idea to review FSIS’ “Cooking for Groups” publication. The pamphlet, also available in Spanish, features guidelines for preparing large quantities of food. Other resources at Foodsafety.gov are available 24/7.
Choosing a caterer doesn’t have to be stressful. Here are seven food safety questions to ask your caterer:
1. Are the staff members certified food handlers? If they're certified, this means the staff is properly trained on safe food handling.
2. How do you transport food to the venue? You want to ensure cold foods stay cold and pre-prepared hot foods stay hot. If caterers transport unsealed food containers in the same compartment, spillage and cross-contamination may occur.
3. When and where is the food prepared? If the food is prepared off-site, ensure the caterers safely transport the food. If the food is prepared on-site, ensure the caterers have the appropriate tools they need to prepare and serve the food. Budget conscious couples may choose a venue without a fully stocked kitchen. When this happens, communicating this information to the caterer will ensure that they prepare by bringing the necessary cookware and supplies.
4. How long after food — especially meat, poultry and eggs — is cooked is it brought out to guests? Perishable foods should not sit out at room temperature for more than two hours.
5. How long does the buffet remain open and how will the caterer avoid the food entering the “danger zone?” Ask the caterer to provide chafing dishes or warming trays to keep hot foods hot, and ice or another cold source to keep cold foods cold. Otherwise, food may enter the danger zone, the temperature range between 40 and 140 degrees where bacteria multiply rapidly. Never leave perishable foods in the danger zone for more than two hours, or one hour in temperatures above 90 degrees. After two hours, food that has been sitting out should be replaced with fresh food.
6. Are there any potential allergens used in the preparation of the food? You should certainly ask your caterer if there are any allergens in the dishes, including peanuts, soy and wheat. If there are, guests should be notified.
7. Do you use a food thermometer to check that food is properly cooked? The answer must be yes! No one — not even a caterer — can tell if meat is properly cooked by its color. They must use a meat thermometer.
Following these tips can help you and your guests enjoy a happy, healthy wedding instead of a trip to the doctor. For more healthy nuptial tips, check out APHA’s public health wedding board on Pinterest.