Appetizer Spread
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Nine Tips for a Safe & Healthy Potluck

Author: Public Health Department
Date: 12/18/2017 12:57 PM

Quick tips from County Public Health Department staff can help keep the focus on festive good times – not unwelcome ailments.

It's that time of year: potluck season. As friends, families, and co-workers gather to share camaraderie and their favorite side dishes, a few quick tips from County Public Health Department staff can help keep the focus on festive good times – not unwelcome ailments. Remember: 

Don't invite food poisoning.

"Preparing food for a potluck setting is different from putting dinner on the table at home," said Laurie Salo, supervising environmental health specialist. It's a good time to be extra cautious about food prep, and keep an eye on the clock so food doesn't sit out too long.

1. Remember the basics: clean, separate, cook, chill. Use hot, soapy water to wash your hands and the countertop before you cook. Keep raw meat, poultry and seafood separate from other ingredients and use separate cutting boards for each. Use a food thermometer to ensure food is cooked thoroughly. Refrigerate perishable food right away.

2. Eat first. "One of the easiest steps you can take is planning your event so food isn't sitting out too long before you eat," said Salo. If you're planning a potluck and meeting, eat first. If you're hosting a get-together with flexible hours, give guests a time range when food will be out ("dinner from 6-8 p.m.") and refrigerate the food after that.

3. Put away food after two hours. Bacteria that cause food poisoning can multiply rapidly at room temperature. After two hours, store leftovers in shallow containers in the refrigerator.

Keep colds and flu away from the buffet.

Even if you feel fine, it's important to take precautions to avoid spreading illness, said Christine Gaiger, communicable disease program manager.

4. Wash your hands. Before and after cooking, prepping the table, arranging dishes, or eating: wash your hands with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds. (Not sure how long that is? Sing the "happy birthday" song to yourself twice.) If you're planning the event, be sure to provide a place for guests to wash their hands. If handwashing isn't available, alcohol-based hand sanitizer is a good alternative.  

5. Beware the tasting spoon. If you taste food as you're cooking, use a separate spoon for each taste. Plus, use a separate spoon for stirring and a fresh spoon for serving. Make sure each dish has a serving utensil so guests don't need to take food with their hands.

Brighten the table with a healthy dish.

A few extra vegetables can be a welcome bright spot on the buffet table, said Shannon Massey, public health nutritionist.

6. Make foods look festive by adding a few eye-catching vegetables to a favorite dish or try a new, flavorful healthy side dish or healthy entree recipe. Buy in-season produce when it costs less and tastes best.

7. Try a makeover of your favorite potluck dishes, using the MyPlate Recipe tool

8. Finds ways to cut back on added sugars, salt and fat as your prepare your favorite recipes.