Safety in numbers: An ode to proper food handling for group meals

FamilyMeal_Bigstock-4881228_blogSpring is in full swing (allegedly) and summer is on its way, with family reunions, neighborhood barbecues and holiday celebrations on the horizon.

What’s the common denominator between all of these things? Food. And lots of it.

The importance of proper food handling techniques cannot be overstated when preparing food for groups. Here are some tips from the USDA from keeping your next happy gathering from taking a nasty turn (at least food safety-wise. We can’t vouch for Uncle Harold’s stories about the good ol’ days):

Before the meal

  • Ensure the refrigerator is at 40°F or cooler. Food that needs to be refrigerated should be placed there within two hours of purchase (the sooner, the better).
  • Keep raw meat separate from others foods to prevent contamination.
  • Cleanliness is key – wash your hands and all food preparation surfaces.
  • Avoid cross-contamination. Don’t use the same utensils or dishes for raw and prepared items (e.g., don’t place a cooked ham on the same unwashed plate that held the raw ham).
  • Using a marinade? Ensure marinating food is placed in the refrigerator. Marinade should not be reused on ready-to-eat foods.

During cooking

  • Ensure meat is cooked to the proper temperature. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it is time to bust out the meat thermometer.
    • Steaks, roasts and chops: 145°F with a three minute rest
    • Ground beef, veal, lamb and pork: 160°F
    • Ground turkey or chicken: 165°F
    • Ham:  145°F with a  three minute rest

(See more here.)


  • Keep hot foods hot (140°F should do) and cold foods cold (40°F or lower). This will help prevent them from entering the “danger zone” between 40 –140°F. This range is where bacteria multiply the fastest.
  • Don’t leave perishable food out for more than two hours. Cut that time in half if the temperature is 90°F or more.


  • Place leftovers in shallow dishes when refrigerating them. This will allow them to cool faster.

Find these tips and more in the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service’s Cooking for Groups guide.

For egg safety tips, click here.

Additional tips from USDA are available here.

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