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Catering from home safely: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

Introduction


Are you planning to cater from home for family or friends, perhaps for a wedding or birthday, or for a group meeting? If so, then you might find this information helpful.


You might be planning to prepare the food at home and then take it somewhere else to be eaten, such as a community centre, social club or village hall.

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.


If you are handling or preparing food at home as a commercial business, then you must follow the Food Safety (General Food Hygiene) Regulations 1995. Contact your local environmental health department if you want information and advice on these Regulations.


Keeping Food Safe


A very wide range of foods can cause food poisoning if not handled properly. Raw poultry, and occasionally raw eggs, may contain food poisoning bacteria. Both are associated with food poisoning outbreaks. Meat and meat products, and fish and shellfish, have similarly been identified as culprits when illness has struck. Sauces and desserts such as mousses and home-made ice creams which may contain raw eggs, may cause problems too. Likewise you need to be careful with raw salads, and vegetables that will be eaten raw. Many foods can be a source of food poisoning bacteria - proper precautions must be taken in preparing them.


The Most Common Errors


Some of the most common errors that may lead to food poisoning are:


  • Poor storage

  • Cold foods not kept cold enough or hot foods not hot enough

  • Inadequate cooking

  • Not separating raw and ready-to-eat food


Storage


  • Large functions mean large quantities of cooked and uncooked food competing for limited amounts of fridge and freezer space.

  • Inappropriate storage is one of the most common faults reported as contributing to food poisoning outbreaks. Food is often left unrefrigerated for prolonged periods. Domestic fridges are not designed to cope with the large amounts of food prepared in the home for functions.

  • Don't take chances. Before you take on the task of catering for large numbers from home, make sure you've got the fridge and freezer capacity needed to keep food cool and safe.

  • Check food labels for storage instructions.

  • In case there are any drips from raw meat, poultry or fish, keep these items at the bottom of the fridge, below where any ready-to-eat food is stored, and in a leak-proof container. Protect the salad tray from any drips too.

  • Keep raw and ready-to-eat food separate.

  • Don't clutter up the fridge with wines, beers and soft drinks. While these drinks may taste better cold, they don't need to be refrigerated from the point of view of food safety. Keep them in separate ice buckets, cool bags or cold water so that you can maximise fridge space for perishable items.

Temperature Control


It is, of course, important to keep perishable food in the fridge, particularly in the summer, as bacteria grow quickly at temperatures above 10°C.


Remember:


  • The coldest part of your fridge should be kept between 0°C and 5°C (32-41°F). Use a fridge thermometer to check the temperature. Don't overload your fridge. The efficiency of the fridge will suffer if the cooling air circulating within it cannot flow freely.

  • Keep the f