University of Florida

Food Safety: Potluck Parties

From holiday work parties to classroom celebrations, potlucks are a popular way for people to mingle, relax, and try others’ favorite recipes. Although these gatherings are meant to be festive occasions, potlucks can result in the spread of foodborne illness.

Reduce the chances of receiving a foodborne illness by following these easy potluck safety tips.

Preparing Food

  • When planning your dish, consider food safety—make foods that are easy to serve with utensils.
  • If you or someone in your home has a “stomach flu,” then wait to make food until the next potluck.
  • Whole fresh fruits, nuts, dried fruits, and certain baked goods are great options because they don’t require temperature control.
  • Before making hot or cold foods, make sure you can keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
  • Always wash your hands before and during food preparation.
  • Use utensils to mix different salads rather than your bare hands. Also, for cold-mixed dishes, such as potato or chicken salad, let the ingredients cool before stirring them together.

Bringing & Serving Food

  • Be sure to keep cold salads at 40°F or lower at all times, and use an iced cooler to bring cold foods to the potluck.
  • Stews, chili, and other hot foods should be kept at 140°F or hotter and should be transported using an insulated container.
  • Casserole dishes, which need to be wrapped in tin foil, should be the last item packed before leaving home—try to serve these dishes soon, too.
  • Keep your pets at home—don’t transport food with animals in your car.
  • At the potluck, have one person check the food to ensure it’s safe to eat.
  • Clean all surfaces, dishes, and serving utensils—also, supply enough utensils, so people don’t need to grab or touch the food.
  • Reheating & Storing Leftover Food

  • Do not let leftovers sit out for more than two hours—refrigerate leftovers as soon as possible, and check the foods’ temperatures if they’ve been out longer than two hours.
  • Reheat leftovers to 165°F, and separate ready-to-eat foods from raw ones.
  • Eat leftovers with a clean plate, and wash plates and silverware with hot, soapy water.
  • Throw out any leftovers older than four days.

Potlucks are fun and tasty ways to celebrate holidays, get to know others, or share your best recipes. So cook, transport, and serve food safely to prevent foodborne illnesses.   

Adapted and excerpted from:

C. L. Penuela and A. Simonne, “Keeping Food Safe: Special Tips for Potluck Parties” (FCS8999), UF/IFAS Family, Youth and Community Sciences (Accessed 08/2014).


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