Holiday Party Buffets: Avoiding Party Crashers
The holidays are a time for cooking, baking, and sharing. Many people celebrate with their family, friends, and neighbors. For example, Latino families tend to spend the 24th and 31st of December with their families and in some countries they get together to make “natilla” (a milk, corn starch, cinnamon, and sugar custard), “buñuelos” (cheese balls), and to eat “lechona” or “lechón” (stuffed pig). Holiday parties are a great occasion to exchange gifts and good will, but not the dangerous bacteria that cause foodborne illness.
Buffets and the Two-Hour Rule
Perishable foods (like meat and poultry) should not sit at room temperature for more than two hours. Keep track of how long foods have been sitting on the buffet table and discard anything there two hours or more.
Hot and Cold
Keep Hot Foods HOT and Cold Foods COLD. When serving hot food on a buffet, foods should be held at 140 °F or warmer. On the buffet table you can keep hot foods hot with chafing dishes, slow cookers, and warming trays. But do not re-heat food served hot in your slow cooker because they’ll spend too long heating up. Slow cookers are just for maintaining that reheated temperature. Make sure to heat foods to at least 165 °F.
Cold foods should be held at 40 °F or colder. Keep cold foods cold on a buffet by nesting the serving dishes into bowls of ice. Otherwise, use small serving trays and replace them. If you're transporting cold foods, use a cooler with ice or a commercial freezing gel.
After the fun is over, don’t forget to discard all perishable foods, such as meat, poultry, and casseroles left at room temperature longer than 2 hours. Immediately refrigerate or freeze remaining leftovers in shallow containers. If you have additional questions about how long leftovers can be stored, download our FoodKeeper app on your Android or iOS device. This app offers storage guidance on more than 400 items and cooking tips for meat, poultry, seafood and eggs.
The holidays give us the opportunity to indulge in typical foods by enjoying a special “Cena de Navidad” or a Christmas Eve dinner. Bacteria are everywhere and a few types especially like to crash parties. Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium perfringens, and Listeria monocytogenes frequent people's hands and steam tables. And unlike microorganisms that cause food to spoil, harmful or pathogenic bacteria cannot be smelled or tasted. Remember that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Prevention is SAFE FOOD HANDLING.
Want to learn more about party crashers? Visit FoodSafety.gov/poisoning.