Don’t Forget about Food Safety when working with Caterers
Summer is the season for weddings, graduation parties, and picnics, which revolve around food. While serving an enjoyable meal for you and your guests is important, it is also important to make sure your caterer is taking proper food safety precautions when preparing food for you and your loved ones.
Event venues are required to ask caterers for their health department permits before an event. Consumers have the right to ask caterers for a proof of their health department permit as well. Having a valid food establishment permit is a good way to ensure that the kitchen where the food is prepared is subject to routine food safety inspections at least twice a year, and that the chef and any other employees are certified in food safety and properly trained in safe food handling.
Caterers should be preparing food in a commercial kitchen, not in their own homes (residential kitchens). Residential kitchen permits are limited to the preparation of non-TCS foods (Time and Temperature Control for Safety). Non-TCS foods include, but are not limited to, baked goods such as cookies, brownies, cakes, candies, jams, & jellies.
There are several reasons a standard home kitchen is not permissible as a replacement for a commercial kitchen, below are a few of them:
1) There are sinks designated for hand washing only. Food preparation sinks are required to be separate to avoid contamination.
2) Food meant for consumers is required to be kept separate from employee food to avoid contamination.
3) Commercial kitchens are required to have three compartment sinks to properly wash, rinse, and sanitize dishes and equipment.
4) Animals are restricted in commercial kitchens.
5) Plumbing systems in commercial grade kitchens are required to provide an adequate supply of hotter and cleaner water all of the time.
6) Commercial grade refrigeration units are more consistent and accurate and thermometers are required to ensure temperature control.
In short, commercial kitchens are held to a higher standard than home kitchens. They are designed with food safety as a priority.
When working with a caterer, consumers should also ask about how the food is transported from where it is made to the event location. Asking the following questions can help confirm that food is being held safely:
1) Does the caterer use a mechanically refrigerated truck, insulated cooler, or warming unit when transporting perishable food?
2) Does the caterer use a stem thermometer to check that food is cooked thoroughly?
3) Do they keep temperature logs and take temperatures of food when it arrives at the event location?
4) What action do they take if food is not at a safe temperature?
5) Once food is served, how does the caterer and their staff ensure that cold food is kept cold and hot food is kept hot?
6) Are there any potential allergens used in the preparation of the food? If there are guests with food allergies, how is cross contamination avoided?
It’s important to ensure that food is never left outside (even in an insulated bag). This could attract rodents and other animals. Insulated bags are not adequate to control the temperature of food. Bacteria grows most rapidly in the temperature range from 41 to 139, which is commonly referred to as the “temperature danger zone.” Perishable food should never be left out at room temperature over two to three hours. If the temperature is over 90° F, then food should not be left out longer than one hour.
Food that is not prepared, transported, or stored properly can make people very sick. Don’t let food borne illness be the ending to an otherwise happy event. Please be vigilant when working with caterers.
***As of October 2017, Stephanie McFadden and her company 'Cooking In With Stephanie' is Milton's only licensed caterer.
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT:
Milton Health Department