Preventing Food Poisoning At Catered Events

Marshalee Valentine

Thursday, July 18, 2019

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Do you plan on having an outdoor wedding, birthday party or an all-inclusive event this summer? Will you be preparing food on site or will you be using catered food transported from another location? Many of us use external caterers as an affordable option to offer guests meals for our events. However, there is a risk associated with using catered food. Consequently, the method for preparing, transporting and serving this food must be carefully monitored to prevent food poisoning whether it is being served in a buffet or in plastic containers.

An article published by Jalelah Abu Baker of Channel News Asia highlighted a study done by a food safety expert at Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP). This study used catered items such as salmon salad ordered through a delivery service, a catered bento box comprising fish with ginger and spring onion, and a chicken and cabbage mixed rice. Based on the article, the food was measured at three different times for the amount of bacteria in it — at “zero” hours when it was received for testing, with further testing again at the four- and six-hour marks. It was found that at zero hours, the cooked food had a bacteria count of just 300, the bento box had 64,000, and the salmon salad already had a count exceeding the 100,000 “safe” threshold, beyond which there is a potential health risk for those with lower immunity, with the possibility that consuming the food could cause diarrhoea or vomiting. The bacteria count continued to rise as the hours passed. At four hours, the cooked food bacteria count doubled to 600, and the bento set had exceeded the 100,000 safe level. Now what are the chances of this happening to your catered food? And what are the chances of food poisoning occurring? Well, this is based on quite a few factors: type of bacteria, whether or not food is reheated, age and health status of person consuming foods.

Careful steps must therefore be taken to reduce the proliferation of bacteria in catered food, especially during these summer months! Here are a few critical areas to be monitored when ordering or preparing catered food for an event, in order to prevent nausea, vomiting, and food poisoning.

1. Ensure the time taken between food preparation and consumption is limited. Try to deliver and serve food within two to four hours of preparation and keep food warm with the necessary equipment.

2. Caterers must ensure that all employees preparing food are aware of best hygiene practices and monitor activities to ensure that these employees wash hands, wear clean clothes and are not suffering from communicable diseases. Also, ensure they have a food handler's permits.

3. Individuals serving the food must use appropriate utensils and disposable gloves to maintain a sanitary workspace, and ensure that these utensils are properly sanitised.

4. Caterers must ensure that food is transported in containers/vessels that keep cooked food warm along with ensuring that the mode of transportation is clean.

5. Ensure that utensils are kept separately for different food items, especially allergens.

6. Keep warmers and thermometers on site to keep food at recommended temperatures and to monitor changes to the temperature.

7. Patrons must ensure that hands are washed prior to eating and serving food in the event that this is a self-serve buffet line.

8. Caterers should try to recommend menu items that do not include mayonnaise, eggs, dairy, or any high-hazard food that may cause bacteria to multiply rapidly in hot temperatures.

9. If food is pre-packed in boxes/plastic containers, ensure this is served and consumed within four hours of preparation.

10. Event planners, hosts, etc, please make sure to inspect the facility that will be preparing food for your guests and ensure they meet basic food safety requirements.


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