Holiday or Party Buffets

Keeping Food Safe

When planning a holiday meal or party, choose foods that you will be able to serve safely under the conditions of your planned activity. Temperature abuse is a common cause of foodborne illness. On the buffet table keep hot foods hot with chafing dishes, crock pots, and warming trays. Keep cold food cold by nesting dishes in bowls of ice.

Types of Foodborne Bacteria

Bacteria are everywhere but a few types especially like to crash parties. These bacteria frequent peoples' hand and steam tables and they cannot be detected through smell or taste. Prevention is safe food handling.

Staphylococcus aureus

Staphylococcus aureus is found on our skin, in infected cuts and pimples, and on our noses and throats.


  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water.
  • Wash utensils before preparing and handling food.
  • Do not let prepared foods sit at room temperature more than two hours.

Clostridium perfringens

Clostridium perfringens is found in foods served in quantity and left for long periods of time on inadequately maintained steam tables or at room temperature.


  • Divide large portions of cooked food into smaller portions for serving and cooling.
  • Keep cooked foods hot or cold not lukewarm.

Listeria monocytogenes

Listeria monocytogenes are found in cold foods typically served on buffets.


  • Follow "keep refrigerated" label directions.
  • Carefully observe "sell by" and "use by" date on processed products.
  • Thoroughly reheat frozen or refrigerated processed meat and poultry products before consumption.

The "DO" List to Keep Food Safe

  • Never leave your just purchased food in the car - take is straight home to the refrigerator or freezer to keep it safe.
  • Wash hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before and after handling food
  • Use one cutting board for raw meat only and another for April 20, 2006 ard in hot soapy water before and after each use.
  • Be sure to cook roast beef, veal, or lamb to a temperature of 145° - 160° Cook whole poultry to 180° , poultry breast to 170° , ground poultry and turkey to 165°. All other meat, fish, ground red meats cook to 160°
  • Reheat hot foods to 165°, arrange and serve on small platters rather than large.
  • Keep the rest of the food hot in an oven set at 200° - 250°
  • Keep cold foods in the refrigerator until serving time; serve on small platters.
  • Keep hot foods above 140°
  • Maintain cold foods at 40° by putting them on ice.
  • Reheat sauces, soups, gravies by bringing to a boil.
  • REPLACE empty platters instead of adding new food to the dish with food in it.
  • Don't leave food at room temperature for more than 2 hours, including preparation and serving time.

Be Careful of These Potential Holiday Disasters!

  • Shrimp cocktail not kept on ice
  • Cheese and crackers at room temperature for hours
  • Cheese balls on the table the entire evening
  • Dips not kept on ice
  • Cream pies not refrigerated
  • Sandwich meats stored on counter or table for long periods of time

Remember the 2 Hour Rule

Foods should not sit at room temperature for more than two hours. Discard anything that sits for two hours or more. Cover and refrigerate leftovers sitting at room temperature within two hours of preparation.


  • Use leftover meats or grains within three to four days.
  • Use gravy and sauces and stuffing within one to two days.
  • Freeze your turkey, stuffing and gravy, and they should be used within one month.

Need More Information?


  • USDA meat and poultry hotline 1-800-535-4555
  • for the hearing impaired (TTY)1-800-256-7072
  • Nassau County Extension Service FCS Agent 904-548-1116, (904) 548-1182,or 904-530-6353



Meg McAlpine
FCS Agent IV
Contributing Editor