Holiday buffets: Be good to your guests |

Holiday buffets: Be good to your guests

Pam Graber
For the Nevada Appeal

What food safety guidelines should be followed for buffet-style entertaining?

Holiday entertaining is great fun, and a buffet-style presentation often works best. However, this style of food service, where foods are placed out and left at room temperature for long periods of time, can invite unwanted bacteria growth capable of causing foodborne illness. This article presents some guidelines for keeping perishable food safe and your guests well.


Candles, flowers, and garnish enhance the appearance of the buffet table. But to keep foods safe from unwanted bacterial growth, follow these guidelines:

• Use chafing dishes, warming trays or slow cookers to keep hot food hot. 140 degrees or more.

• Keep cold foods cold by nesting serving dishes on containers of ice.

• Replace empty platters with fresh ones, rather than adding new food to a dish that is already being used.

• When heating and chilling are impossible or impractical, use small serving trays and replace them frequently. Depending on the room temperature, food should not sit out longer than an hour or two.

• Designate someone to help implement these guidelines and to keep the buffet table tidy. 


Even when you’re still in the grocery store, basic food-handling principles should be followed. The Partnership for Food Safety Education ( makes it simple to remember by promoting “Clean, Separate, Cook, Chill.”


• Wash, wash, wash. Wash your hands for 20 seconds before and after handling food, using the bathroom, changing a diaper or handling pets

• Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils and counter tops with hot, soapy water before going on to the next food

• Consider using paper towels during food-prep or clean up. If you use cloth towels, wash them often in hot water

• Rinse all fresh fruits and vegetables under cold, running water


• Keep raw meat, poultry, eggs and seafood separate from other foods.

• While shopping, sort and separate the groups of food in the grocery cart. During check-out, be sure the raw meat, seafood, and poultry is bagged separately so it can’t touch the produce. In your refrigerator, store the raw meat, seafood and poultry low where it can’t possibly drip onto other food.

• Have a cutting board for produce, and a separate one for raw fish, poultry, and meat.     

• Never put food on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, seafood or eggs (until you wash it first).


• Use a quality instant-read thermometer to check cooked food internal temperature.

• Most food needs at least 145 degrees; ground meat should reach 160.

• Cook eggs beyond runny. Avoid recipes that call for raw or partially cooked eggs.

• When reheating foods, heat to 165 degrees.


• Refrigerate or freeze perishable food as soon as you get home from the store.

• Do not thaw food by leaving it out. Use the refrigerator, microwave or cold water. Food thawed in the microwave or with cold water should be cooked immediately.

• Marinate in the refrigerator.

• Large amounts of leftovers should be placed in smaller, shallow dishes so they cool more quickly in the refrigerator.

Following these pointers can keep your holiday party food safe. However, these guidelines are not just for holiday buffets. They should be used year round, whether company is coming or not. For extensive food and nutrition information, visit

Carson City Health and Human Services

Clinic Hours: Monday-Wednesday and Friday

9 a.m.-4 p.m., by appointment

900 E. Long St.


• Pam Graber is the public information officer for Carson City Health and Human Services. She can be reached at (775) 283-7906 or More information is available online at or on facebook.