Keep food safety on the menu at spring events

“Do you know all these people? I asked my daughter softly.

My daughter was at the door welcoming another long line of teenagers for her graduation party at our house last spring.

“Yes, I do,” she replied. She was a little annoyed by my question.

I was happy that they were celebrating her accomplishment and I was happy that she had so many friends.

However, I was a little worried about the amount of food I had prepared. Long lines of children showed up at our door.

“They heard the food was good here,” my daughter commented.

She knows exactly what to say.

My daughter had two special requests: homemade fancy cupcakes and hot ham and cheese sandwiches. I had added vegetable and fruit platters, various dips, fries and another type of sandwich.

I had baked at least 200 cupcakes and sandwiches. We served platters of hot sandwiches every 10 minutes. I was wondering if we would need to order pizza.

My husband had other worries.

“Hope we’re not having a COVID superspreader event,” my husband commented under his breath.

He had led a group of 12 teenagers into the service area.

By the end of the party, at least 150 people had visited our house. I have had no reports of illness. Luckily I had food to spare and the weather outside cooperated.

The teenagers especially enjoyed the cupcakes, fruit and sandwiches.

Fruits and vegetables added color and nutrition to the buffet. Fries, crackers and various dips added crunch and variety.

I was trying to balance fat and calories in sandwiches and cupcakes.

The food moved quickly from the serving table so I wasn’t concerned about food safety issues.

Unfortunately, our guests weren’t as enamored with the turkey tortilla wraps I had purchased. Hot sandwiches were preferred to cold.

Whenever cooking for groups, you have special food safety considerations. Whenever food is in the danger zone (room temperature), bacteria can grow in perishable foods such as cut fruit and meat sandwiches.

Some of the major causes of foodborne illness outbreaks include not cooling food properly, food not being hot enough, food prepared in advance and not kept at proper temperatures, cross-contamination, and food left too long in the “danger zone” (41 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit).

If you are a casual quantity cook for upcoming spring and summer events, check out the NDSU Extension publication, “Cooking for Groups,” by searching online for “NDSU Extension Cooking for Groups.”

The guide takes you from buying food to cooking, serving and storing.

Here are some of the food safety tips to keep in mind when serving a crowd.

Keep cold foods cold. Place cold foods such as dips, cut fruits and vegetables in nested containers in the ice. Your cold foods should be kept at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Be sure to drain the water as the ice melts and replace the ice frequently.

Keep hot foods hot. Once the food is thoroughly heated by the stove, oven or microwave, keep the food warm using a heat source. Place food in food warmers, preheated steam tables, warming trays and/or slow cookers. Check the temperature frequently to make sure food stays at or above 140 F.

Discard any food left at room temperature for more than two hours. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers immediately in shallow containers.

Here’s a colorful and nutritious dip to serve at spring and summer gatherings. You can find many slider recipes online. Do a lot if you’re serving teenagers.

Black bean salsa

  • 1 10 oz bag frozen corn (or substitute 15 oz can, drained)
  • 1 can (15 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 large tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 1 large red onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons of white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons rapeseed oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon lime juice
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

In a large bowl, combine the first six ingredients. In a small bowl, whisk together the spices, oil and lime juice. Measure the remaining ingredients and mix all the elements. Cover and refrigerate for one hour. Stir before serving.

Makes 11 servings (2/3 cup serving). Each serving contains 100 calories, 3 grams (g) of fat, 3 g of protein, 16 g of carbohydrates, 4 g of fiber and 110 milligrams of sodium.

Julie Garden-Robinson, a food and nutrition specialist at North Dakota State University (NDSU) and a professor of health, nutrition and exercise sciences, was recently elected president elected by the National Association.

Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., RD, LRD, is a food and nutrition specialist at North Dakota State University Extension and a professor in the Department of Health Sciences, nutrition and exercise. Follow her on Twitter @jgardenrobinson.

Jennifer C. Burleigh