Saying “I Do” Soon? Don’t Forget About Food Safety!

With summer in full swing, this also means it’s wedding season. While you might not immediately associate weddings with food safety, the two have been recently linked, especially with the rise of “do it yourself” weddings. Since catering is one of the largest expenses in a wedding budget, couples can often keep costs low by doing the catering themselves.

Resources to keep in mind for having a food safe wedding

Taking on the challenge of ‘do it yourself’ catering can be a rewarding and cost-saving option, but it is key to follow good food safety guidelines from the U.S. Department Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) resource Cooking for Groups. The pamphlet, also available in Spanish, features guidelines for preparing large quantities of food. Other resources at Foodsafety.gov are available 24/7, but if catering your own wedding adds another task to your already hectic to-do list, then consider hiring a budget-friendly caterer.

7 Questions to Ask Your Caterer

Choosing a caterer doesn’t have to be stressful. Making delicious food is just one part of the equation. Here are seven questions to ask your caterer to make sure your reception follows safe food practices:

1) Are the staff members certified food handlers?

If they are certified, this means the staff is all properly trained on safe food handling.

2) How do you transport food to the venue?

Make sure cold foods stay cold and hot foods (prepared), stay hot. Also, check that the caterers will use sealable containers.

3) When/where is the food prepared?

If the food is prepared off-site, ensure the caterers safely transport the food. If the food is prepared on-site, ensure the caterers have the appropriate tools they need to prepare and serve the food.  Budget conscious couples may choose a venue without a “fully stocked” kitchen. When this happens, communicating this information to the caterer will ensure that they prepare by bringing multiple knives, serving spoons, cutting boards, and dish towels.

4) How long after the food is cooked —especially meat, poultry and eggs—will it brought out to guests?

Perishable foods should not sit out at room temperature for more than two hours. This will ensure that your guests are served a hot and, more importantly, safe meal.

5) How long does the buffet remain open and how will the caterer avoid the food entering the “danger zone”?

Ask the caterer to provide chafing dishes or warming trays to keep hot foods hot, and ice or other cold source to keep cold foods cold. Otherwise, food may enter the “danger zone,” between 40 and 140°F, where bacteria multiply rapidly. Never leave perishable foods in the “danger zone” for more than two hours; one hour in temperatures above 90°F. After two hours, food that has been sitting out should be replaced with fresh food.

6) Are there any potential allergens used in the preparation of the food?

Make sure to ask your caterer if there are any allergens in the dishes, including peanuts, soy, and wheat. If there are, guests should be notified in some way.

7) Do you use a food thermometer to check that food is properly cooked?

The answer must be, “yes!” No one (not even a caterer) can tell if meat is properly cooked by its color – they must use a meat thermometer.

Plan ahead before you save the date! Don’t let your wedding guests become one of the approximately 48 million Americans that suffer from foodborne illnesses every year. Need more food safety information? Call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at (1-888-674-6854) Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET, or email or chat at AskKaren.gov.

This blog was written by: Food Safety Education Staff, Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA & IFIC Foundation.