Tag Archives: buffets

Lots of Leftovers?

The notion of abundance seems to permeate the holiday season. In preparation for guests or as a contribution to a potluck gathering, you might prepare enough food to feed 12 or more people…and sometimes only 6 people show up, or there are so many other dishes to choose from that only small portions are taken from each dish. So then, what do you do with the leftovers?

First of all, perishable foods that have sat at room temperature (higher than 40°F) for over two hours need to be discarded. It’s also handy to note a few particular foods don’t generally freeze well: celery, cucumbers, parsley, radishes, and lettuce are vegetables that don’t freeze well due to water logging; mayonnaise, sour cream, milk sauces, and cream and custard fillings are likely to separate; fried foods, meringue and icings with egg whites will lose their desired consistencies.

If you plan to eat a food within three to four days, then cover that food with plastic wrap or seal it in a reusable container and refrigerate. Check that your refrigerator is set to 40°F or below.

If you don’t think that you’ll get to it in the next few days, then freeze the food at 0°F or below. For best quality, get it in the freezer sooner rather than later. Also consider portion sizes when you package food for freezing. Avoid creating such large portions that you repeatedly thaw and refreeze- thawing and refreezing leads to water loss, and therefore a drier final product.

Package foods in freezer bags or tightly sealed glass or plastic containers. You may also use butcher paper, heavy-duty aluminum foil, or plastic wrap. Regular plastic wrap will allow air to reach the food and cause it to deteriorate overtime, so wrap with multiple layers of plastic wrap and consider placing it in a rigid container as well. The material of freezer bags, glass, thick plastic, and butcher paper is impermeable to air.

If using a bag or rigid container, remember to leave enough head space for the food to expand while freezing. Adequate headspace is important so that the package doesn’t break. The actual amount of headspace required depends on the food you are freezing, but leaving one inch is most likely enough unless you are freezing a liquid, in which case leave 1½ inches.

Be sure to label packages with the name of the food and date, as color and appearance may change in the freezing process, or you might just not be able to see through the packaging.

For quickest freezing, spread the items out against the surfaces of the freezer, then rearrange packages closer together once frozen. This more rapid freezing prevents ice crystals from forming, which are likely to damage food cells. Also, freeze only about two to three pounds of food per cubic foot of freezer space. That’s the amount that can freeze within 24 hours.

Information in this entry comes from the Freezing and Food Safety Factsheet by the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety Inspection Service, Preserving Food: Freezing Prepared Foods by The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, and So Easy to Preserve.

Beat the Bacteria Buffet

Spread cheer, not the worst foodborne illness of the year!

We love sharing foods this holiday season, but unfortunately, sometimes in the process we also share foodborne bacteria causing illness. Buffets and potlucks are particularly popular, but come along with certain risks. Make your hearty gatherings the most healthy (and happy!) by practicing these food safety tips from USDA.

Keep Clean
Wash hands, wash dishes, wash utensils, and clean kitchen surfaces. Wash well and wash often.  Invite your guests to also wash their hands as you welcome them.

Cook Completely
Cook foods to safe temperatures. Measure their temperature internally with a food thermometer, before removing from heat source. Cook beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops, and roasts to at least 145°F. All raw ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal needs to be cooked to no less than 160°F. Poultry must be cooked to a minimum of 165°F. You can cook any of these meats to higher temperatures, but not lower.

Store Shallow, Serve Small
To store cooked foods before serving, store them in the refrigerator or freezer in a shallow dish to encourage rapid, even cooling. Most foods, and especially all meats, poultry, seafood, casseroles, and soups must be reheated to at least 165°F before eating again; serve them in small portions and continually replace platters when empty. This way, foods stay a safe temperature for longer and growth time for bacteria is minimized.

2:02 is Two Too Much 
It is best to discard perishable foods after they sit out at room temperature for more than two hours.  Otherwise, keep them below 40°F or above 140°F. Of course, it’s okay to keep out foods that are stored at room temperature for longer times, like uncut apples and crackers.

Cold means Cold, Hot means Hot
Use chafing dishes, slow cookers, and warming trays to keep hot foods at 140°F or warmer. Nest dishes in bowls of ice to keep cold foods at 40°F or cooler. Otherwise, keep swapping in foods from the oven or refrigerator.

Hidden in Handling
Remember that harmful bacteria capable of causing illness usually cannot be seen, smelled, or tasted. Three common bacteria found partying at food festivities are Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium perfringens, and Listeria monocytogenes. If anyone does feel ill, please remind them to contact a health professional and describe their symptoms.

The information in this entry comes from the Holiday or Party Buffets Factsheet by the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service.