When planning a special event, family gathering or banquet, some people hire a professional caterer.
Caterers can prepare and serve food in the same location, prepare food at a licensed facility then transport and serve at the event location, or prepare and serve foods at the event location.
Date Published: December 3, 2002
Revised: January 8, 2004
Errors in timing and temperature increase the risk for foodborne illness. The challenge is heightened when preparing and serving large volumes of food to many people at a single gathering.
People should be confident that all proper food handling practices are used throughout the process of handling, cooking, transporting, storing and serving food. For social events where food is being served, there are some things that should be checked to ensure the event is enjoyable rather than
a high risk for foodborne illness.
When Choosing a Caterer
- The caterer should have experience preparing and
serving food to large groups. The premises they work from
should be licensed by the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture
- Ask the caterer about their experience and knowledge
of food safety.
- They should be willing to provide references.
- The location for serving food should have hand washing
equipment, washrooms and hot and cold potable water.
- The caterer should have the right equipment including
cutting boards, utensils, food thermometers, hot and cold
holding equipment for both transporting and serving foods.
- Foods such as raw meats and fish must be purchased
from a licensed supplier. Fresh foods should be purchased
no more than one to two days before the event.
- When planning the menu consider your guest list and avoid
high risk foods such as raw fish or shellfish and unpasteurized cheeses,
especially if you have young, aged or immunosuppressed persons on your list.
- The kitchen (and the facilities from which the food
is going to be served) must have sufficient hot and cold
holding equipment for all perishable food required for the
function, as well as hand washing facilities, washroom and
hot and cold potable water.
- Hot foods should be cooked the same day as the event
and served hot, reducing unnecessary cooling and reheating.
- Meat, poultry, fish, and other high risk foods like
cream filled pastries and desserts must be refrigerated
at 4°C / 40°F until ready for preparation or service.
- Meat and poultry must be cooked to the correct internal
temperature and kept hot (above 60°C / 140°F) until served.
Temperatures should be checked using a probe type food thermometer.
- Food brought to the event that are not provided by the
caterer, should be limited to low risk foods such as snack
- Staff should be knowledgeable about food safety
and have taken a food handler training course recognized
by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.
- The caterer should have sufficient staff to prepare
and serve the meal in a reasonable time period.
- Staff should wear clean outer garments (uniforms)
or aprons and hair coverings and should not smoke, eat or
drink while preparing or serving food.
- All food must be transported in sealed, leak-proof
containers suitably designed for holding or transporting food.
- Hot foods must be transported at 60°C (140°F)
or higher and cold foods transported at 4°C (40°F) or lower.
- Vehicles used to transport food must be clean and
free from contamination.
Serving Large Quantities of Food
Serving a sit down meal
- Hot foods should be plated immediately prior to
serving. If there is to be a delay, the plates of food must
be held at 60°C (140°F) or above in appropriate warming
- Hot holding equipment is intended only for maintaining
food above 60°C (140°F) and must never be used to reheat
- Cold plated foods must be kept at 4°C (40°F) or
lower. Any perishable food left at room temperature for
longer than two hours should be discarded.
- Hot foods are to be kept at or above 60°C (140°F)
and cold foods kept at or below 4°C (40°F) while being
held in the kitchen and if possible in the buffet line.
- Perishable foods not kept at hot or cold temperatures
must be discarded after two hours
- Replenish hot and cold foods as required rather
than placing large volumes of food on the buffet line.
- Guests are to be encouraged to use a clean plate
each time they return to the buffet table.
- Sauces and dressings should be labeled to discourage
- Tongs or long-handled ladles should be provided
for each buffet item to prevent guests from touching the
food with their hands or utensils.
- Perishable foods that have been served or placed
on a buffet should not be reused.
- Hot foods that have not been served or placed on
a buffet should be cooled and refrigerated within two hours.
Hot foods may be cooled quickly by placing them in shallow
pans with the food no deeper than two inches.
- Refrigerated leftovers should be eaten within four
days or be frozen for longer storage. Dating leftovers helps
to make sure they are used quickly.
- Frozen leftovers should be used within two to four
months for best quality. When taken from the freezer leftovers
should be used within four days.
- Leftovers must be reheated to at least 74°C (165°F).
The temperature should be checked using a thermometer.
There are four simple rules for food safety that will help ensure an enjoyable celebration: COOK- cook to proper temperatures; CHILL- refrigerate foods promptly; CLEAN- wash hands, utensils and surfaces often to keep everything clean and free of bacteria; SEPARATE- keep foods separate to avoid cross contamination.
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