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Food Safety: Prevent Stomach Bugs

United Methodist churches prepare and serve meals often, whether for a weeknight supper, a fundraiser for those in need, or for a special occasion. Food is an important part of the church’s ministry.

Many times, food poisoning is not reported because the symptoms come hours after the food has been consumed. Only in extreme cases impacting numerous people will a common source be identified. Make certain that the food you serve is handled properly to avoid spreading illness to those who eat it.

Unlike in a restaurant, many variables go into the selection, storage, preparation, handling, and serving of food. Here are some guidelines for each of those steps.

Selection of food items

  • Do not purchase or use food that has expired.
  • Never use items that have been thawed and re-frozen.
  • Do not use meat, poultry, or seafood that has torn packaging or is leaking.

Storage of food items

  • Use a thermometer to make sure the refrigerator temperature is 40 degrees or below.
  • Cook fresh poultry, fish, and ground meats within two days of purchase. Beef, lamb, pork, or veal should be cooked within three to five days of purchase.
  • Do not store unlike items in the same container (chicken and beef, for example).
  • Use sealed, plastic containers for leftovers.
  • Label and date all stored food.
  • Use cooked, refrigerated leftovers within four days.
  • Reheat leftovers to 165 degrees.
  • Do not taste or use any food that seems off: When in doubt, throw it out.

Food preparation

  • Always wash hands with hot, soapy water prior to handling food and between preparing different items.
  • To avoid cross-contamination, wash cutting boards, utensils, and countertops with hot, soapy water between preparing different items.
  • Thaw items in the refrigerator instead of at room temperature.
  • Always marinate food in the refrigerator in a covered, non-metallic container.
  • Do not allow juices from different foods to mix.
  • Cook all foods according to guidelines:
    • Meat juices should be clear and not bloody.
    • Seafood should have an opaque look and flaky feel.
    • Ground beef should be cooked to a temperature of 160 degrees and ground poultry should be cooked to 165 degrees.
    • Whole poultry should reach 180 degrees in the thighs, and breasts should be at 170 degrees.
    • Eggs should be cooked until they are firm and no longer runny.

General food handling

  • Post kitchen rules and food preparation and serving guidelines in plain sight.
  • Create guidelines for keeping and disposing of food in the church refrigerator and freezer.
  • Keep all cleaning fluids and non-food items off the counters and away from food preparation areas.

Serving food to church members and the needy

  • Hot foods should be kept in a warmer at 140 degrees.
  • Cold foods should be kept at 40 degrees or cooler.
  • Perishable foods should not be left out for more than two hours – or one hour if the temperature outside is above 90 degrees.
  • Wear gloves whenever handling food.

Appoint a supervisor

  • Select a lead volunteer who knows about food preparation to act as the supervisor. This individual should select all food brought in from home to determine what needs to happen to ensure safe consumption. He or she should also inspect the refrigerator and discard old food before preparations for any event begin.
  • Immediately heat or refrigerate any food someone brings from home.
  • Make sure all volunteers know their jobs and are aware of any potential issues.
  • Place all foods in marked containers.

Sharing food with others is a wonderful way to build relationships and create harmony in your community. To make sure such events have no unintended consequences, create and follow specific guidelines. Planning, communication, training, and supervision is critical to hosting a successful event with food.

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