Sports & Recreation
Safe Foods at Community or Fundraising Events
By Tracie Hershberger
Environmental Health Specialist, SRPMIC Environmental Health Services

Preparing foods in large quantities for community events, fundraisers or family reunions requires more than bringing in additional people for helping out with the event. It also requires additional food-safety monitoring for handling, preparing, storing and serving of foods to help prevent foodborne illness.

Bacteria can grow on foods and cause us to become sick. Foods that are not stored, cleaned, cooked or transported correctly provide great growing conditions for illness-causing bacteria. The types of bacteria that cause food poisoning do not affect the look, taste or smell of the food that is contaminated; therefore, keeping menus as simple as possible, making dishes fresh each day (no leftovers) and preparing food to order are good rules to follow.

Individuals with a greater risk of acquiring a foodborne illnesses include:

  • Infants and children under the age of 5
  • The elderly
  • Pregnant women and their unborn child
  • People with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes
  • People with a weakened immune system (cancer and transplant patients and those with HIV/AIDS or kidney disease)

Food-preparation methods that we may use in our private homes for our own families may not always be acceptable for serving the general public or large groups of people. For these types of events, it is very important to know the food-safety regulations and requirements. The health and safety of your family and customers depends on following some simple steps.

1. Plan Ahead

  • Purchase foods from approved sources (licensed, permitted and inspected kitchens, grocery stores and warehouses).
  • Ensure that you have all needed equipment (including latex-free disposable gloves) for preparing, cooking, holding and serving foods.
  • Ensure there is plenty of safe (potable) water for preparing foods and for washing hands and equipment. Set up 5 gallons of warm water in an insulated cooler for hand-washing and a three-compartment sink for washing and rinsing cooking equipment and serving utensils.

2. Store and Prepare Foods Safely

  • Perishable foods need to be refrigerated or frozen within two hours of purchasing or preparing (within one hour if the temperature is above 90F).
  • Thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables before peeling, slicing, cutting or cooking.
  • Prepare raw foods and cooked foods (ready-to-eat) in separate work areas.
  • Wash food-contact surfaces (cutting boards, dishes, utensils, etc.) frequently with hot, soapy water.
  • Wash hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food, changing gloves, using the restroom or handling animals (see diagram below).

3. Cook Foods to the Correct Internal Temperature

  • This is the only way to ensure that harmful bacteria has been destroyed!
  • Use a calibrated thermometer to check the internal temperature of meats, poultry, casseroles and other foods. Be sure to check the temperature at several locations throughout the product.
  • Never partially cook foods for finishing later, as this increases the potential for bacterial growth.

4. Transport Foods Safely

  • Maintain hot foods at or above 135F by wrapping well and placing in an insulated container.
  • Maintain cold foods at or below 41F by placing in an insulated cooler completely covered with ice or frozen gel packs.
  • The containers and vehicles need to be clean and sanitary so the food arrives on-site clean and safe for consumption.

5. Reheating Hot Foods

  • Food must be served hot and steamy. Reheat foods to an internal temperature of 165F or above before serving. Again, check in several locations to ensure proper internal temperatures.

6. Watch the Danger Zone (41F 135F)

  • Ensure hot foods are placed in chafing dishes, preheated steam tables, warming trays and/or slow cookers to maintain 135F or above.
  • Ensure cold foods are kept cold by placing them in containers that are surrounded as much as possible with ice to maintain 41F or below (see diagram below)

7. When in Doubt, Throw It Out!

  • Discard foods left out at room temperature for more than two hours (one hour when the temperature is above 90F). Place leftovers in shallow containers and refrigerate or freeze immediately.

By following some simple steps, everyone involved can help to ensure events are safe as well as successful!

The SRPMIC Environmental Services team is happy to answer any questions regarding food for an event, visit the event for reassurance of food safety, and to provide more information on the 2009 FDA Food Code.

Environmental Health Services is located in the Health Center building, on the second floor. Regular office hours are Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Team members are Christopher Henke, Supervisor, (480) 362-5706; Tracie Hershberger, Specialist, (480) 362-5743; and Michael Wagner, Technician, (480) 362-5623.

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