"No-Show" Guests Jeopardize Food Safety
the guests, decorated the table and prepared the food. Then
the guests are delayed, call to cancel or don't show at all.
Holiday meals and other celebrations require careful planning
to ensure that everything goes "just right." When guests encounter
emergencies and the meal must be delayed or cancelled, food
must be handled "just right" to remain safe.
Every day the hotline receives calls from consumers who need some help with
these unplanned situations. Here's how to handle the food
Q. I have prepared a special dinner for a group of friends,
but I just heard the weather report on TV advising everyone
to stay home. What should I do with all the food?
A. If your
guests can re-schedule within four days, cooked foods can be
stored safely in the refrigerator. For longer storage, freeze
any cooked food. Arrange the
cooked food in shallow airtight containers or wrap tightly
with heavy-duty aluminum foil or freezer wrap, and freeze. These
foods will keep their best quality (flavor, texture, juiciness)
for 3 to 4 months. Also, most vegetable, rice and pasta dishes
can be frozen. Cream sauces may become lumpy or separate when
frozen and reheated, but they will be safe to serve again.
Q. I thawed steaks for dinner tonight. Will they need to be discarded
if the guests do not come?
A. Raw meat (or poultry) can be safely
refrozen, but ONLY if it was thawed in the refrigerator. If
the meat or poultry was previously frozen, there may be a decrease
in quality when frozen a second time, but it would be safe because
bacteria do not grow in the freezer.
Alternatively, if your
guests will be able to come at a later time, poultry and ground
meats can be refrigerated for two days; red meats like roasts
and steaks, up to five days. Kept longer at refrigeration temperatures,
meat or poultry will likely spoil.
Q. Everything is ready for
the meal but my guests have been delayed at least an hour. What
shall I do to hold the food?
A. Remember the basic food safety
- Keep hot foods hot, and cold foods cold.
- Don't let any cooked food, meat or poultry remain in the danger zone — between 40 °F and 140 °F — for more than 2 hours.
If you have hot foods
in the oven, you may be able to hold them safely until your
guests arrive. Put a food thermometer in the thickest part of
your roast or poultry, or center of your casserole. Adjust the
oven temperature so that the food stays at an internal temperature
of 140 °F or above. To prevent dryness, cover the dishes or
wrap with aluminum foil.
Q. Due to an emergency situation, my
guests will be here, but they will be three to four hours late.
Can the food stay in the oven?
A. Food will probably dry out
if kept warm that long. For extended delays, it is safer to
refrigerate the food and reheat it when your guests arrive.
Food in shallow containers will cool rapidly to a safe temperature
in the refrigerator. Do not worry about putting hot foods directly
into the refrigerator because the thermostat will keep the unit
running to maintain a safe temperature (40 °F or below). When
your guests arrive, reheat food in a 325 °F oven to an internal
temperature of 165 °F, or until hot and steaming. Cold foods
should be kept refrigerated until mealtime.
Q. My stuffed turkey
is ready NOW, and the guests are not arriving for three hours.
A. If you have prepared a turkey and you have determined
it is safely done several hours before serving time, remove
the turkey from the oven and allow it to stand for 20 minutes.
If the turkey is stuffed, remove the stuffing, place it in a
shallow container, cover and refrigerate. Remove the legs, thighs,
and wings. Carve the breast meat, and legs and thighs, if desired.
If you want to serve the turkey cold, arrange the sliced turkey
on platters or in shallow containers. For carved turkey meat to
be reheated, place the slices in shallow oven-safe baking dishes
or pans. Cover and refrigerate the meat. If you will be making
gravy, pour off the drippings and refrigerate them. The gravy
can be made at your leisure.
About thirty minutes before serving
turkey to be heated, sprinkle with a little broth. Cover with
foil and heat in a 325 °F oven. The stuffing can be heated alongside
Q. I frequently order take-out foods when I am entertaining.
What should I do with the food after I bring it home?
A. How you handle the food will depend on its temperature when you
pick it up. First, take the food home immediately. Do not leave
take-out foods at room temperature longer than two hours. At
room temperatures over 90 °F, discard after one hour.
Foods cold when picked up should be refrigerated until serving time.
If the food is hot, and you will not be eating within two hours,
keep it in an oven set at a high enough temperature to keep
the turkey at 140 °F. Measure the temperature of the turkey
by inserting a food thermometer in the thickest part of the
thigh. If you are picking up the foods far in advance, refrigerate
them and reheat later for serving.
February 4, 2010