Catering Food With Care

Last week it was my Son’s birthday and we planned to take the kids for a picnic to the lakeside park. We decided to make a salad and pack some sandwiches & drinks for the picnic. We prepared the sandwiches at night and took along with us for the morning trip. By mid-day we were at the lake. As we spread the sheets on the grass the kids felt hungry and demanding food. As I opened the basket I smelt something weird.

The sandwiches with chicken filling was giving out unpleasant smell. The food had gone bad. To our good fortune we figured out that it had gone bad and decided not to eat it. Such instances happen with each one of us in our day to day life. We often prepare food at home and then take it somewhere else to be eaten. A lot of people cater from home and supply food to people. As the person preparing or handling the food, it is your responsibility to make sure your food does not make the guests ill. Food poisoning is a miserable and potentially dangerous experience.

You will need to take extra care if any young children, pregnant women, older people or anyone who is ill will be coming to the function. This is because if anyone in these vulnerable groups gets food poisoning, they are more likely to become seriously ill. In spite of using fresh ingredients to prepare food, it goes bad so soon. Let’s figure out what really went wrong?

The most common errors which lead to food poisoning are:

Poor storage of Food
Cold foods not kept cold enough or hot foods hot enough
Inadequate cooking
Not separating raw and ready-to-eat food

Food contamination can happen at any stage be it cooking, transportation and even storage. Inappropriate storage is often reported as the cause of food poisoning outbreak. Food is left unrefrigerated for prolonged period which makes it prone to bacteria infestation. If you are planning to prepare food for a large group ensure that you have an appropriate sized refrigerator and freezer to store food and you use proper wrapping paper and bags to store food.

Raw food and Ready to eat food should never be stored together. This increases the risk of bacterial activity.

Cooked foods that need to be chilled should be cooled as quickly as possible, preferably within an hour. Avoid putting them in the fridge until they are cool, because this will push up the temperature of the fridge. To cool hot food quickly, place it in the coolest place you can find – often not in the kitchen. Another way is to put the food in a clean, sealable container, and put it under a running cold water tap or in a basin of cold water, or use ice packs in cool bags. Where practical, reduce cooling times by dividing foods into smaller amounts.

Once the food is prepared, getting it to where the function is being held can be a problem. This can be particularly difficult when there are large quantities of perishable food involved. Use cool boxes. You will also need to check that the facilities at the place where the function is being held are adequate for keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Adequate fridge and cooker capacity there is just as important as in the home.

Cooking food thoroughly is the key to killing most of the harmful bacteria that cause food poisoning. Large meat joints or whole poultry are more difficult to prepare safely, so take special care with them.After having learnt all this I realized why the picnic food got spoilt. I let the chicken sandwiches out unrefrigerated for way too long and I did not care to separate salads and ready to eat food. I could have used cool box for transporting the food. But I guess we all learn from our bad experiences.