Chow Line: Holiday Potluck Food Safety Tips

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My office is having a holiday potluck next week – do you have any tips to make sure I don’t do anything that will make my co-workers sick from eating my food?

It’s the holiday season and in offices across the country, coworkers are gathering together to celebrate. With that in mind, it’s a good thing that you want to take extra precautions to make sure that your world-famous seven-layer guacamole and cheese dip that you bring in to share with your office mates won’t send them home sick.

The best way to make sure that doesn’t happen is to adhere to good food safety guidelines. In fact, it’s a good idea to adhere to good food safety guidelines anytime you prepare food – whether it’s a small dish just for yourself or a meal you prepare to share with others.

First things first – always wash your hands before, during and after food preparation. That may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how many people forget to do this simple act when preparing food. According to a study sponsored by the American Society for Microbiology and the American Cleaning Institute, only 77 percent of people say they wash their hands before handling food. 

It’s also important that you don’t make food to share if you or someone in your home is sick, advises the Ohio Department of Health. Doing so could result in you unintentionally sharing those cold germs with others.

Other tips for the holiday potluck from the Ohio Department of Health and others include:

  • When deciding what to bring, consider foods that don’t require temperature control such as baked goods or pre-packaged snacks.
  • Make foods that are easy to serve with utensils to limit the need for hands to come in direct contact with the prepared food.
  • If you make a dish that is prepared off-site, make sure that you transport the food in a covered container to prevent contamination.
  • Cold foods should be kept in a cooler with ice or gel packs to keep the foods cold during transportation.
  • If you are bringing hot foods, make sure you use an insulated container to keep the foods hot during transportation.
  • Use a slow cooker, chafing dishes or other types of warmers to keep hot foods above 140 degrees throughout the potluck.
  • Perishable foods — especially meat, poultry, seafood and eggs — should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours to help ensure that the food doesn’t enter the “danger zone” -- between 40 and 140 degrees, where bacteria multiply rapidly.

Also, before the potluck starts, remember to let everyone know if there are there any potential allergens used in the preparation of the food, including nuts, soy, milk, eggs, wheat and fish or shellfish. And remember to throw out any foods that have been sitting out without temperature control for more than two hours.

Bon appetite!

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or

Editor: This column was reviewed by Kate Shumaker, an Ohio State University Extension Educator and registered dietitian.

Tracy Turner
For more information, contact: 

Kate Shumaker
Ohio State University Extension