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Tips on handling food for large gatherings

People who are great cooks for themselves and their family may not know how to prepare and store quantities of food safely for large groups.

Food that is mishandled can cause foodborne illness and lead to serious consequences. It is important that cooks and volunteers be especially careful when preparing and serving food to large groups.

Here are some tips:

• Plan ahead. Be sure you will have adequate oven, stovetop, refrigerator, freezer and work space.

• Store and prepare food safely. Refrigerate or freeze perishable food within two hours of shopping or preparing. Use an appliance thermometer to be sure the refrigerator is at 40 degrees or below and the freezer is zero degrees.

• Clean everything. Wash hands, cutting boards, dishes, utensils and work surfaces frequently with soapy water.

• Separate raw and ready to eat foods in storage and during preparation. Do not cross-contaminate.

• Cook food to safe internal temperatures. The only way to tell if harmful bacteria are destroyed is by using a food thermometer.

• When shopping, transporting, preparing or serving keep hot food hot, 140 degrees or above; and keep cold food cold, 40 degrees or below.

• Chill food quickly. Refrigerate promptly. For quicker cooling, place in an ice water bath and stir.

• Never leave perishable foods, such as meat, poultry, eggs and casseroles in the "danger zone," which is 40 degrees to 140 degrees, for more than two hours, or for more than one hour in temperatures above 90 degrees.

When in doubt, throw it out.

Lou Ann Jopp is a food science educator with University of Minnesota Extension.