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Safety Library

Tips, Tutorials, and Checklists to help manage ministry risks

Safe Food Handling and Serving Guidelines

Following procedures can help fend off food-related illnesses

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Women in the church prepare and serve food at the church potluck

Church dinners offer great opportunities for fellowship. However, when you’re feeding a group of people, there’s always the potential for contaminated food to sicken everyone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 6 Americans get food poisoning each year. By handling food safely, you can prevent bad food from spoiling a good time at your church or ministry. Follow these food safety tips to help keep your people healthy:

Keep it Clean
  • Always wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling food.
  • Keep your kitchen, countertops, cutting boards, dishes, and utensils clean and sanitized.
Separate Food
  • Where possible, separate raw vegetable and meat preparation areas.
  • Always serve food on clean plates and with clean utensils—do not serve with anything that touched raw meat or poultry. Otherwise, bacteria that may have been present in raw meat juices can cross-contaminate the food to be served. 
Cook Thoroughly

Cook foods thoroughly to achieve safe minimum internal temperatures:

  • Beef, veal, and lamb steaks, roasts, and chops should be cooked to 145° F.
  • All cuts of pork to 160° F.
  • Ground beef, veal, and lamb to 160° F.
  • All poultry should reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165° F.
Use Containers Properly
  • Divide cooked foods into shallow containers to store in the refrigerator or freezer until serving. This encourages rapid, even cooling. Reheat hot foods to 165° F.
  • Arrange and serve food on several small platters rather than on one large platter. Keep the rest of the food hot in the oven (set at 200 - 250° F) or cold in the refrigerator until serving time. Doing this ensures that foods are held at safe temperatures for longer periods of time.
  • Replace empty platters rather than adding fresh food to a dish that already had food in it. Many hands took food from the dish, which was also sitting out at room temperature.
The Two-Hour Rule
  • Foods should not sit at room temperature for more than two hours.
  • Keep track of how long foods sit on serving tables and discard anything that is there for two hours or more.
Keep Hot Foods HOT and Cold Foods COLD
  • Hot foods should be held at 140° F or warmer.
  • On a serving table, keep hot foods hot with chafing dishes, slow cookers, and warming trays.
  • Cold foods should be held at 40° F or colder.

While the very young, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems are most susceptible to food-borne illnesses, these illnesses pose grave threats to everyone. Talk with your local board of health to determine if you are following the guidelines for churches and church schools or programs. Work with them to ensure that you are following safe food preparation and serving practices. Consider posting safe food preparation and handling signs in your kitchen where they are easily seen and referenced.

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