Question: My fiancé and I are getting married in June and we want to make sure our guests have a wonderful experience. But I’ve heard some horror stories about people getting sick from food during wedding receptions. What can we do to make sure that doesn’t happen at our wedding?
Answer: Adhering to good food safety guidelines during a wedding reception will help ensure that your guests leave your wedding with only happy memories. No one wants a bad case of food poisoning that could leave them sick for days or even land them in the hospital as a wedding favor.
That has been the case for some wedding guests, according to published reports.
More than 300 guests were sickened during a 2014 wedding in Sullivan, Mo. after consuming gravy that was not cooled and reheated correctly. That allowed Clostridium perfringens, a bacterium that can be harmful to humans, to develop, leaving guests with abdominal cramps and diarrhea.
Guests at a 2016 Alabama wedding contracted Salmonella poisoning from eating green beans and improperly cooked chicken. Cross contamination was likely caused by using the same serving utensils for the green beans and the chicken, authorities there said.
And in July 2015, some 35 wedding guests in Brewerton, N.Y., were sickened by Staphylococcus aureus — a salt-tolerant bacteria that can grow in foods such as ham and in gravies and sauces — after eating food served at a wedding reception.
Nationwide, the CDC estimates 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases each year. To help prevent that from happing at your wedding, the U.S Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service offers these food safety questions brides and grooms should ask their caterer before the reception:
Is the catering staff properly trained on safe food handling?
When and where is the food prepared? If the food is prepared off-site, ensure the food is transported safely. If the food is prepared on-site, appropriate tools are needed to prepare and serve the food including multiple knives, serving spoons, cutting boards and towels.
How is food transported to the venue? Cold foods should stay cold and hot foods stay hot. Use sealable containers for food – transporting unsealed food containers in the same compartment could result in spillage and cross-contamination.
How long after food—especially meat, poultry, seafood and eggs—is cooked is it brought out to guests? Perishable foods should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours.
How long does the buffet remain open and how will the caterer avoid food from entering the “danger zone” — between 40 and 140 degrees, where bacteria multiply rapidly? Chafing dishes or warming trays should be used to keep hot foods hot, and ice or other cold sources should be used to keep cold foods cold. Never leave perishable foods in the “danger zone” for more than two hours or longer than one hour in temperatures above 90 degrees. After two hours, food that has been sitting out without temperature control should be replaced with fresh food.
Are there any potential allergens used in the preparation of the food, including nuts, soy, milk, eggs, wheat and fish or shellfish? If there are, guests should be notified in advance. Allergens should also be noted on the buffet.
Is a food thermometer used to check that all foods have been properly cooked and are held at safe temperatures? No one can tell if meat is properly cooked by its color – using a thermometer is a must.
For brides and grooms who choose to prepare the wedding food on their own without a caterer, in addition to the above food safety tips, keep in mind the following:
Separate raw foods from cooked foods.
Do not use utensils on cooked foods that were previously used on raw foods.
Chill foods promptly after preparing and when transporting from one place to another.
Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or firstname.lastname@example.org.