Harvest Sales, Fall Festivals and Cook-Offs
A cornucopia of homecomings, chicken stew and pancake suppers, spaghetti dinners, bake sales, bazaars and festivals all mark the coming of fall in Lee County. Many of our faith communities, civic organizations and non-profit agencies host harvest sales, fall festivals and cook-offs each year with the goal to bring families together while raising funds for various charitable events. With the beginning of fall the harvest season begins and family calendars fill up quickly with these events.
October seems to be the month for community groups to host huge dinners and the newspaper is loaded with their announcements and invitations. Lurking in these very innocent events however can be the potential danger of someone getting sick from food improperly handled and as a result becoming unsafe to eat.
During these events there are “many cooks in the kitchen” and this can provide numerous opportunities for fresh, wholesome food to become contaminated with bacteria. To guard against food contamination and foodborne illnesses, one cook with a watchful eye, should be assigned the duty of keeping the food safe. This person not only supervises the preparation, but should also plan to have the food safely served. Bacterial contamination is just as likely to occur while dishing out a serving of chicken stew as it can in washing, cutting up and cooking the chicken. And remember often times you can’t tell if a food is contaminated until several hours after you have enjoyed eating.
To guard against individuals becoming sick at your fall event, I would like to share with you several tips to assure that your gathering is a memorable one, but not for the wrong reasons.
Keep hot foods HOT (above 140 F).
- If you have to hold the food for any length of time, keep it HOT; with an internal temperature above 140 F. Just keeping it warm doesn’t ensure safety. Your “food safety supervisor” should be equipped with a food thermometer, similar to the ones used in area restaurants.
- Usually 140 degrees can be achieved in a 200‑degree oven, but remember, that’s for keeping food HOT. When cooking meat, poultry, or other perishable food, never set the oven below 325. A chafing dish or pre‑heated slow cooker can also be used to keep food above 140. Bacteria multiply fast between temperatures of 40 and 140; it’s what we call the Danger Zone.
- If the food you prepare will be served much later, refrigerate and reheat it just before serving. Before refrigerating divide large quantities into shallow containers for quick cooling; cover loosely, and refrigerate immediately.
- Always reheat cooked foods or leftovers until they are hot and steaming. We recommend 165 degrees.
Keep cold foods COLD (40 F or below).
- Refrigerators should be set to maintain a temperature below 40 degrees.
- Don’t overload the refrigerator; air must circulate freely to cool all foods evenly.
- Observe storage times for items refrigerated.
- Keep food cold on the serving line by nesting dishes in bowls of ice.
Follow these simple steps to ensure food safety:
- Require strict personal hygiene for all involved in handling, preparing and serving the food. It is best to wear gloves when serving food or dipping ice for beverages.
- Keep your kitchen, dishes and utensils clean.
- Purchase food supplies from reputable suppliers. Do not serve donated home canned vegetables.
- Buy reasonable quantities.
- On a serving line hold small amounts of food at a time and replace with a fresh batch of food when empty. Never add fresh food to food that has been on a serving line.
- Constantly check the temperature of food on the serving line.
- Prevent cross contamination in preparing and serving food.
- If food won’t be served immediately, refrigerate it or keep it hot.
- Wrap individually served items such as cookies, cupcakes, and brownies.
- Use plenty of clean, hot soapy water to wash countertops, equipment, and utensils.
- Use bleach water (about 3 tablespoons of liquid bleach to 1 gallon of water) to sanitize counter tops and other surfaces.
REMEMBER most food poisoning bacteria CANNOT be seen, smelled, or tasted. Following these tips will help you to provide safe food to those who attend your event. For me, the fall is a wonderful time to travel about the county to renew friendships and to sample a variety of food from some really good Lee County cooks. Home cooking can’t get any better than this!
Susan C. Condlin is the County Extension Director and Family and Consumer Sciences Agent for the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Lee County.