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Holiday food preparation safety tips

Potluck lunches. Buffet dinners. Soup fundraisers. Church members often gather together for food and fellowship, especially around the holidays. But beware: Open-air meals can become a feeding ground for bacteria.

If food is improperly processed, cooked or prepared, bacteria can enter and cause foodborne illnesses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 48 million Americans are affected by foodborne illnesses every year — and most go unreported.

If your church is hosting a meal, there are steps you can take to prevent your people from getting sick.

Safety Tip #1: Have a squeaky clean kitchen.

Wash your hands in warm water with soap. Clean every preparation piece, including countertops, utensils, cutting boards and dishes. Use paper towels or a fresh cloth to dry wet areas.

Safety Tip #2: Prepare with precision.

Always use a clean cutting board. Avoid cross contamination by using different cutting boards for meat, poultry and fruits/vegetables. Defrost food in the refrigerator, not at room temperature.

Safety Tip #3: Cook thoroughly.

Cook food immediately after thawing. Rinse fruits and vegetables before use, and scrub thick-skinned produce — potatoes, sweet potatoes — with a clean brush under running water. Do not reuse a plate or utensil that has touched raw meats.

Use a meat thermometer to check the temperature.

Meats Safe Internal Temperature
Beef, veal, lamb, pork 160° F
Chicken, turkey 165° F
Ham (fresh/reheat) 160° F/140° F
Seafood 145° F
Precooked meals or leftovers 165° F

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Safety Tip #4: Serve food safely.

Important note: Bacteria will multiply rapidly between 40° F and 140° F.

Foods that have been cooked ahead of time should be reheated to at least 165⁰ F. While serving, keep cold foods on ice below 40⁰ F. Keep hot foods in heating chafing dishes, warming trays or slow cookers above 140⁰ F. Do not leave food sitting out more than two hours. Food that is served separately — chicken or tuna salad, dips or spreads — should be set on ice in a shallow bowl.

Safety Tip #5: Store for later.

Food that has been sitting out for more than two hours should be thrown away. To ensure food safety, immediately refrigerate or freeze the leftovers.

The USDA has an in-depth guide to Cooking for Groups and food safety. It can help you protect your ministry from one of the top three holiday-related risks.


This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be construed as legal advice. Readers should use this article as a tool, along with best judgment and any terms or conditions that apply, to determine appropriate policies and procedures for your church's risk management program.