USDA advises residents on safe cooking tips for groups

Many foodborne illnesses have been linked to food prepared by volunteers

Photo via user kangotraveler

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, many people are coming together to help feed those still without electricity. The USDA put together the following information to ensure food is handled and prepared safely during these efforts.

People who are great cooks at home don’t necessarily know how to safely prepare, store, and handle large quantities of food for groups. Improperly cooked and handled foods can cause foodborne illness. To help consumers prevent foodborne illness when cooking for groups, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service published Cooking for Groups: A Volunteer’s Guide to Food Safety.

The goal of this Guide is to help volunteers prepare and serve food safely for large group events such as family reunions, church dinners,and community gatherings. It provides recommendations for safely handling food prepared at the volunteer’s home and brought to an event, or prepared and served at a gathering.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that foodborne diseases cause approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year. Many documented foodborne illness outbreaks have been traced to food prepared and handled by volunteers for large groups. According to CDC, the most commonly reported food preparation practice that contributes to foodborne illness year after year is not keeping food cold or hot enough. The second most commonly reported improper practice is inadequate cooking.

“Food that is mishandled can cause foodborne illness and serious consequences for all, especially infants, senior citizens, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems,” said Susan Conley, director of USDA’s Food Safety Education Staff. “For this reason, it is important that volunteers be especially careful when preparing and serving food to large groups.”

Cooking for Groups: A Volunteer’s Guide to Food Safety can be printed from the Cooking for Groups website. Single copies of the 40-page Guide are available by visiting this website or writing to:

Federal Consumer Information Center, Item #604 H
Pueblo, CO 81009

Key food safety topics for groups detailed in the Guide incorporate the four principles of the Partnership for Food Safety Education’s Fight BAC!™ campaign:

  • Clean: Wash hands and surfaces often
  • Separate: Don’t cross-contaminate
  • Cook: Cook to proper temperatures
  • Chill: Refrigerate promptly

For additional food safety information about the safe cooking of meat, poultry, or egg products, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline’s toll-free number, 800-535-4555. The toll-free number for the hearing impaired (TTY) is 800-256-7072.

The hotline is staffed by food safety experts, weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern time. In addition, food safety information is available on the FSIS website

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