Food Safety: Asking Caterers the Tough Questions

by Clinton on June 3, 2010 Filed under Catering Tips

Catering Health and Safety

We’ve all heard the horror stories. An entire office comes down with flu-like symptoms the day after the company party, which, incidentally, included chicken on the menu.

While not the norm, food borne illness is more common than we’d like to think. And while professional catering establishments are schooled in the areas of safe food handling and preparation and, for the most part, follow strict hygienic practices, food poisoning is not unheard of.

If you’ve volunteered or were selected as party planner for an event, you should consider yourself responsible, to some degree, for the health and safety of those invited. If the food you order is not prepared, transported or stored properly, food borne illness could become the unhappy ending to an otherwise happy occasion. Instead of receiving accolades, you may become a scapegoat, perhaps a queasy one at that.

With a few inquiries and precautions, though, a sour outcome can easily be avoided.

Professional Caterers Follow Guidelines

As mentioned, most catering companies are extremely careful in following food safety principles. All food service establishments are monitored by a city’s local health department and must be inspected at least twice a year. You have the right to know the record they hold. In some places, a green pass is issued, meaning guidelines are being followed properly. Feel free to visit the caterer’s facility and inquire about hygienic practices of employees such as frequent hand washing and clean surroundings.

If you’re having your food delivered, especially over a long distance, inquire about the company’s methods of transportation. All perishable foods must be transported at either a cold enough or hot enough temperature to prevent the growth of bacteria. During transit, a professional caterer should use refrigerated trucks, insulated coolers, or warming units.

Once at the party, cooked food should not sit at room temperature for more than two to three hours. Coolers or insulated containers, or a bed of crushed ice, should be used to maintain a temperature below 5 degrees Celsius or 41 degrees Fahrenheit. Hot foods should be served from chafing dishes or warming unites to ensure a temperature of at least 60 degrees Celsius or 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

If the caterer is to replenish foods on buffet tables, new food should not be added to the empty dishes. Rather fresh trays or platters should replace the empty ones. It’s unsafe to add new food to room temperature dishes. Ask about their standard practices in this regard.

Remember, Ask the Right Questions

Without having to take a safe food handling course yourself, you can still ensure a safe feast for your party by asking the right questions. Rest assured though, food service establishments are in the business to please customers and they want to stay in the business! They realize this may be difficult if food borne illness becomes a company trademark. That’s why they are educated in effective cleaning and sanitizing, food storage temperatures and rotation, cooking, freezing, thawing and re-heating safety, and personal hygiene. Without going overboard, you, as party planner, simply want to ensure that they follow the proper standards so your event will be memorable, for all the right reasons!

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