Claudia Peńuela and Amarat Simonne of the University of Florida have identified tips for those wonderful potluck parties you will be invited to this holiday season.


Claudia Peńuela and Amarat  Simonne of the University of Florida have identified tips for those wonderful potluck parties you will be invited to this holiday season.



While it’s wonderful to be able to share favorite recipes with friends and to eat a variety of foods without much cost, potluck meals are also associated with an increased risk of foodborne illness.



Why is this?



First, the people who prepare meals for potluck parties are not trained food service professionals and may lack food safety knowledge.



Second, because of the wide variety of foods served at potluck parties, it can be difficult to keep all the different dishes at a safe temperature. Many types of food, such as dishes prepared with meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, dairy products, cooked rice and vegetables, need temperature control.



Such foods should never be kept in the temperature danger zone — 40 degrees Fahrenheit to 140 degrees Fahrenheit — for more than two hours; one hour, if in extreme heat, like a 90 degree Fahrenheit day.



To decrease your risk of foodborne illness, follow the “two-hour rule” and refrigerate all such prepared foods within two hours of purchasing or cooking.



If you are preparing a dish, keep the following tips in mind:



•Keep food safety in mind while cooking and serving.



•If you or your family members are sick with gastroenteritis (a stomach “bug” or stomach “flu”), do not prepare foods for others.



•Prepare foods that are easy to serve with utensils — minimize handling of food.



•When possible, bring items that do not require temperature control. These include whole fresh fruits, nuts, dried fruits and certain types of baked goods.



•If you bring hot or cold foods, make sure that you have a way to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.



•Keep cold food — such as cold salads with ingredients like ham, chicken, tuna and potatoes — at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Use a cooler with ice or gel packs.



•Keep hot foods — such as stews and chili — at 140 degrees Fahrenheit or above. Use an insulated container, like a slow cooker wrapped in paper bags, during travel.



•Do not transport food and animals in the same vehicle.



Use a food thermometer to check food temperatures frequently. After a party, discard any food that was left in the temperature danger zone for more than two hours — or more than one hour on a very hot day). If foods have been safely handled and have not been in the danger zone for more than two hours, leftovers are safe to eat. Use cooked leftovers within three to four days.



Brenda Smith is an agent at the Okaloosa County Extension office in Crestview.