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Having a holiday potluck at work?

Photo: liveslow/iStockphoto

Nothing brings people together like food. And with the holidays fast approaching, office potlucks will be kicking into full swing, so it’s a good time to talk about safe food-handling practices.

Unfortunately, about 1 in 6 Americans – roughly 48 million people – become ill from food poisoning every year, according to To help make sure Ann from Accounting doesn’t get sick after eating Megan from Marketing’s casserole, share these tips with your employees before scheduling a workplace potluck.

Prep time

When preparing food to bring to the gathering, follow these recommendations from the Food and Drug Administration:

Keep it clean. Wash your hands with warm water and soap for a minimum of 20 seconds before and after handling food, using the bathroom or handling a pet. Wash your dishes, utensils, cutting boards and countertops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item. Use paper towels to clean surfaces – cloths can carry and spread germs – and thoroughly rinse fruits and vegetables under running water. Use a clean scrub brush on firm produce.

Keep food separated. Certain foods should never come in contact with each other. For example, keep raw meat, seafood and eggs separate from other foods in your shopping cart, grocery bags or refrigerator. Keep one cutting board exclusively for meats and another for produce, and never place cooked food on a plate that already had raw meat on it. When making marinades, don’t reuse a marinade that was used on raw meat unless you boil it first.

Cook food to the right temperature. Use a food thermometer to ensure food is cooked to its proper temperature to destroy harmful bacteria. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, cook raw beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops, and roasts to a minimum internal temperature of 145° F; raw ground beef, pork, lamb and veal to an internal temperature of 160° F; and poultry to a minimum internal temperature of 165° F.

Eating time

When it’s time to gather for the feast, be sure to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Hot foods should be kept at 140° F or warmer, the USDA states. This can be done with chafing dishes, slow cookers and warming trays.

Cold foods should be kept at 40° F or colder. This can be accomplished by serving cold foods in dishes nesting in bowls of ice.

And although it’s tempting to leave food out all day so people come back later for seconds, it’s important to follow the “two-hour rule”: Never let prepared food sit out at room temperature for more than two hours. If it has, discard it.

Have a co-worker with a food allergy? Read more about how employers can help accommodate these workers. 

Have a safe and happy holiday season!

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