Potluck meals are popular entertaining activities and may help trim food costs for the host. The host and the guests hope to remember the potluck for being fun and delicious, not as a cause for foodborne illness.
Keep the potluck meal safe by following safe food-handling practices. Whenever possible, prepare your dish on the same day as the potluck event. Cook food thoroughly and use a food thermometer to check doneness. Never partially cook a dish and finish cooking it the following day. If you do prepare your food the day ahead, cool it quickly in shallow pans. Always reheat foods to at least 74C (165F).
Do not prepare food for a potluck if someone in your home has been experiencing diarrhea, vomiting or fever within the past week. You could pass their sickness on to others through your food!
If you plan to bring foods that need to be kept warm or cold, keep these foods at a safe temperature by using coolers or insulated containers.
If you cannot keep hot foods hot at 60C (140F) or higher, or cold foods cold at 4.4C (40F) or colder, for two hours or more, consider bringing foods that do not require temperature control such as cookies, cakes, breads, nuts, packaged snacks, beverages or non-food items.
When your food is served, keep an eye on the clock. If it will be on the serving table for a long time, use small bowls or trays. Replenish these from larger quantities kept in the refrigerator or oven.
If potluck attendees will be tempted to touch food at the serving line with their bare hands, provide long-handled serving utensils that will not be buried in the food. Increased food handling increases the chances of spreading foodborne illnesses.
If you plan to use a slow cooker to keep food warm at a potluck, boil the food on the stove or in the microwave when you arrive at the potluck site and then use the slow cooker to keep it piping hot.
If you are uncertain about the safety of food at potlucks you attend, make wise choices. Cooked foods that are moist and high in protein are riskier choices if the storage temperature is unknown. These risky foods include meat, poultry and hot dishes made with them, baked beans, and potato and pasta salads. Avoid eating lukewarm main dishes. Look for raw fruit and vegetable dishes, breads and non-perishable desserts such as cookies and cakes.
– Carol Ann Burtness is a food science educator with
University of Minnesota Extension.