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Keeping Food Safe When Planning a Party

Party planning requires more than lists - it's all about keeping food and guests safe

Parties are fun at any time of year, but hosting carries the added burden of keeping guests well through above-the-norm kitchen and food safety issues. Sure, when you're cooking on your own, the dog or cat may roam through the kitchen. Not a good idea when preparing food for other people. There are a few other beyond-the-basics that should be kept in mind.

Our number one rule is: Reserve and Replace.

That means if food has been out for two hours (or less), refrigerate and replace with fresh foods. Prepare plenty of backups and keep them refrigerated. For instance, set out smaller trays and swap them out in one-hour increments. The buffet table will look full and food won't begin to go limp.

To do this successfully, you'll need plenty of fridge space. If you know the neighbors (and have invited them to the party, of course), ask to keep foods in their refrigerator. Some foods can be set in ice chests - covered or bagged - for short periods.

A few foods can stand up to the test of time. These include tomatoes and cucumbers. Grilled vegetables can remain in a warming tray without losing their appeal.

Is it safe to prepare foods ahead of time?

Yes and no, depending on space and the type of foods.

Number one - space.
Many foods can be prepped, bagged or containered, and frozen. That's a wonderful thing for parties to prevent a massive rush at the end. The question here is - how will you thaw the food and where will you keep it once it has thawed.

Never thaw any party food at room temperature. The time it takes for counter thawing combined with how long it will be sitting on a buffet table are a deadly combination. If you don't have fridge space for thawing and keeping a day or so before the party, there's really no point.

When using ice chests, keep a reliable refrigerator thermometer in each unit.

During hot weather when parties are outdoors:

The standard two-hour rule does not apply when eating outdoors. When outdoor temperatures rise above 85-90 degrees, do not leave food out for longer than one hour.

-Keep ice chests in the house or in a cool, shaded area of the back yard.
-If storing food in an ice chest, make sure the containers do not leak. Any contact with melting water is potentially harmful.
-If foods have been sitting in a cooler and the ice has melted, toss if the timeframe of two hours has passed. Keep an eye on them and rotate with refrigerated foods if necessary.
-Keep drinks and foods in separate ice chests.
-Never place any food in direct sun.
-Keep marinating meats refrigerated. Make a separate batch of marinade for basting on the grill.
-Never partially cook any meat, fish, or poultry and then refrigerate. If you're pre-cooking food in the oven or microwave before grilling, do the entire job immediately with no interruptions.
-If any foods look undercooked in the center, do not serve or eat them. This applies mainly to any ground hamburger or poultry. Use a food thermometer for thicker cuts.
-When eating outdoors, set out a small bowl with moist towelette packets. This will encourage parents to remind their kids to "wash up" before grabbing at food.

For Cooler Weather Parties:

-Keep cold foods on beds of ice.
-Allow for extra tableware and utensils so guests will not have to reuse plates.
-Do not reuse serving trays and replace larger utensils often. In colder weather, it may not be food-bearing bacteria, but guests' germs. Their hands have touched the trays and utensils many times - and everything else. Replace what you can - often.

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