Food Safety for Buffets and Parties

What You Need to Know

  • Separate raw meat, chicken and other poultry, seafood, and eggs from ready-to-eat foods.
  • Use a food thermometer to make sure foods are cooked to a temperature hot enough to kill germs.
  • Germs that can make you sick grow quickly when food is in the “Danger Zone,” between 40°F and 140°F.
  • Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours of cooking. Divide leftovers into smaller portions to cool faster.
Buffet line

Gathering friends and family is fun, but beware of uninvited party guests. Foodborne germs can crash your buffet and make people sick with food poisoning. When cooking, preparing, or serving food for large groups, it’s important to keep food safe. Follow these steps to keep foodborne germs from spoiling your party.

Keep It Clean

  • Wash your hands with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds before preparing, eating, or handling food. Wash your hands after using the bathroom and touching pets.
  • Wash your cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and countertops with hot, soapy water or in the dishwasher after preparing each food item.

Separate Raw Meat From Other Foods

  • Separateexternal icon raw meat, chicken and other poultry, seafood, and eggs from foods that won’t be cooked before eating, such as fruit, salad greens, deli salads, and bread.
    • Keep raw meat, chicken and other poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from other foods when shopping for groceries and in the refrigerator.
    • Use separate cutting boards, plates, and knives for fresh fruits and vegetables and for raw meat, chicken and other poultry, seafood, and eggs.

Cook to a Safe Temperature

Serve Foods Safely

  • If preparing food in advance, divide cooked food into shallow containersexternal icon and store in a refrigerator or freezer. This encourages rapid, even cooling.
  • Keep hot foods hot at 140°F or warmer. Use slow cookers, chafing dishes, and warming trays to keep food hot on the buffet table.
  • Keep cold foods cold at 40°F or below. Use small serving trays and replace often with fresh platters from the refrigerator, or place serving dishes in bowls of ice so they stay chilled.
  • For picnics and other outdoor meals, keep cold food in a cooler filled with ice or frozen gel packs until just before serving.
  • Catering or getting food delivered? Make sure food that is catered or delivered stays at a safe temperature.

The Two-Hour Rule

  • Some foods will quickly become unsafe to eat if not refrigerated or frozen, such as meat, chicken and other poultry, seafood, dairy, cut fruit, some vegetables, and cooked leftovers.
  • Throw away any of these perishable foods that have been left out for 2 hours or more.
  • Toss them after 1 hour if they’ve been sitting out at temperatures of 90°F or hotter, such as food served at a picnic or outdoor family reunion.

Store and Reheat Leftovers the Right Way

  • Divide leftovers into smaller portionsexternal icon or pieces for faster cooling, place in shallow containers, and refrigerate or freeze.
  • Leftover foods should be refrigerated at 40°F or below as soon as possible and within 2 hours of preparation. It’s OK to put hot foods directly into the refrigerator.
  • Leftovers should be reheated to at least 165°F before serving. This includes leftovers warmed up in the microwave.
  • Learn how long food can be stored safely in the refrigerator and freezerexternal icon.

Find out what COVID-19 precautions to take based on your COVID-19 community level.

Food Safety Features
Family in a kitchen preparing food

Read other food safety features to learn more about protecting yourself and your loved ones from food poisoning.