Keeping Safe at the Holiday Buffet

When families and friends gather to celebrate the holidays, the buffet of food is arguably the biggest draw. Don’t let food poisoning illness spoil your party. The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Services (FSIS) Holiday or Party Buffets guide provides insight on keeping your guests safe from bacteria that cause foodborne illness. The guide, which sheds light on food safety guidelines and explains the specific dangers of the most common bacteria causing foodborne illness, emphasizes prevention in the following tips:

  • Safe food handling is key to preventing foodborne illness. Wash your hands before handling food and always use clean dishes and utensils. Do not serve food on dishes that have held raw meat and poultry, as cooked food can quickly become contaminated by the juices.
  • Use a food thermometer, and make sure to cook foods until they reach their designated safe internal temperatures. Beef, pork, lamb, and veal must be cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal must be cooked to 160 degrees, and poultry must reach 165 degrees to be safe.
  • When used to store food in the refrigerator or freezer until serving, divide cooked food into shallow containers, which helps the food to cool rapidly and evenly. When reheating food, make sure it reaches 165 degrees, and serve food in small portions, leaving the rest of the food in the oven (set to 200-250 degrees) to stay hot.
  • Do not allow food to sit out at room temperature for more than two hours, discarding anything that has been on the buffet table for two hours or more.
  • Hot foods must be held at 140 degrees or warmer, and cold food must be 40 degrees or colder. Use warming trays, chafing dishes, and slow cookers to keep food warm, and use dishes nested in bowls of ice to keep food cold.

Individuals with questions about food safety can call 1-888-MPHotline Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET, or visit, which houses a live chat during Hotline hours and an automated response system for answering food safety questions 24/7.