Department of Health and Human Services > Food
Inspection and Safety (Consumer Health) > Food
Safety Tips > Catering Tips
Whether you volunteer, are drafted,
or your job includes party planning, this year's company party is your responsibility. You call
a caterer to help. Not only should you be concerned about the
cost of the party, you need to quiz the caterer about FOOD SAFETY
principles. Why? Because food that is not prepared properly,
transported properly and served properly can lead to food borne
illnesses - not a happy ending to a party. Here are the questions
(and the answers) for you:
Q: Does the catering company
have a permit or license?
A: Catering companies are
considered food service establishments and must belicensed
as a food establishment. This means that the local Health Department
permits them and is inspected at least twice a year by the department
inspector. Chances are that they are aware of the food safety
rules and regulations.
Companies or individuals who
prepare food only in clients' home or other setting is not regulated
because they do not have a facility where they prepare food
for catering. These operators may not be aware of all safe food
handling principles. You can check to see if they are certified
food handlers, who has taken the food safety course offered
by many local health departments. Various professional associations
also offer similar food safety courses.
Q: Where is the food cooked?
A: If the food preparation
is to take place at the caterer's establishment, feel free to
visit the facility. The facility must be clean, provided with
enough refrigeration space for large quantities of food, cooking
and holding facility for large batches of cooking so that cooking
will not need to be done too far in advance. There should be
separate areas in the kitchen for handling raw and cooked products
as when raw and cooked products mix, cross contamination can
cause an illness outbreak. Check to see if the employees in
the kitchen follow good hygienic practices by washing hands
Q: How will they transport
A: The transportation of food,
and all raw products is critical. All perishable foods must
be held cold (41°F or below) or hot (140°F or above)
during transit. The caterers can use refrigerated trucks, insulated
coolers, warming units, etc. If they do not, insist on it.
Q: How will the food be kept
hot or cold during the party/serving?
A: No cooked food should sit
at room temperature for more than two to three hours. Cold foods
must be kept at 41°F or below by using coolers, insulated
containers, or on a bed of crushed ice. They can serve hot foods
from chafing dishes or warming units that maintain the foods
at 140°F or above.
Q: How is the caterer planning
to replenish foods on buffet tables?
A: The caterer should prepare
many dishes of each food to be served. The back up dishes should
be kept cold or hot before serving. When the plates are empty,
they should be removed and replaced with full trays. It is unsafe
to add new food to a serving dish that has been out of refrigeration
or hot holding.
Q: What will be done with
A: If the food is prepared
under safe food handling practices, and held at safe temperatures
throughout the party, enjoying the leftovers should be safe.
Divide the leftovers into smaller portions for quick chilling
or freezing. Use anything you plan to refrigerate within 1-2
days. Make sure that you reheat the leftovers
thoroughly before serving. When in doubt, throw it out!
more information about this or other food safety related information,
please call the
Bureau of Consumer Health Services at 713-794-9200.
Return to the food safety index page
the HDHHS Bureau of Consumer Health Services