Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio February
Food and Beverage
BY CHRYSTAL INGRAM WHITE
Lessons in Food Safety
Make sure your F&B providers practice proper
Mad cow disease that eats holes in people's brains, apple juice
tainted with E. coli and strawberries suspected of carrying
hepatitis A -- these are serious concerns. Should planners be
worried? You bet. Food poisoning accounts for 9,000 deaths each
year and as many as 33 million illnesses, reports the Washington,
D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest. Worse, it's
difficult to pinpoint how these bacteria end up on your plate -- or
the plates of your attendees.
Most bacterial infections occur long before folks make a beeline
to the buffet. Salmonella, for example, enters eggs directly from
the hen; molds and toxic by-products can develop in grains during
the growing season. This, however, doesn't take food and beverage
providers off the hook; they are still responsible for proper
cooking temperatures and kitchen hygiene practices.
How can you be sure safe food is being served? You may not be in
the kitchen personally handling the chicken cutlets, but you can
insist upon several precautions to help prevent food poisoning.
THE HOTTER, THE BETTER
The Food Safety and Inspection Service of the Department of
Agriculture recommends that during the cooking process, hot foods
-- particularly meats -- should reach a temperature of 160 degrees
to kill any bacteria. After cooking and before serving, meats
should be kept warm at 140 degrees. On the cold side, foods should
be refrigerated to 40 degrees. Anywhere between 40 and 140 degrees
is the danger zone for contamination.
With this in mind, when doing a site inspection, ask to see the
kitchen, preferably when meals are being prepared. If you notice
perishable foods, ask how long they've been sitting out and why.
(They should be out no longer than two hours.) Are frozen foods
defrosting at room temperature? (They should be defrosted in the
refrigerator to reduce the opportunity for bacteria growth.) Are
wood or plastic cutting boards sterilized? (Wood boards should be
microwaved for five minutes; plastic boards should be disinfected
in the dishwasher.) When moving to a new task and working with a
different food item, do food service employees change to new
If anything sends up a red flag, ask the food service manager or
chef for an explanation. You are within your rights to express
IT TASTES GREAT, BUT...
Salmonella can be killed, but it takes thorough cooking to do
it. So stay away from dishes made with raw or lightly cooked eggs,
such as Caesar salad, French toast and hollandaise sauces.
Hepatitis lurks in live oysters and clams, which filter large
amounts of water to obtain food -- water that may contain bacteria.
If you choose to serve raw fish or sushi, request that the fish be
frozen to kill any parasites, then thawed before serving.
Bacteria-free food is at risk of being cross-contaminated.
Shrimp salad, for example, is a wiser choice than seafood salad, in
which one kind of seafood can infect the entire dish.
Dishes served at buffets from heating pans can also be the
culprit in food poisoning. Food at the edges of the pan may not be
hot enough to stifle bacteria growth. To prevent problems, request
that all buffet heating pans have covers to maintain heat, and
instruct servers to regularly stir the food. It's also a good idea
to have each type of hors d'oeuvre served from a separate serving
LESSONS FROM THE PAST
In 1994, a meal served at the Holiday Inn in Palo Alto, Calif.,
caused several cases of food poisoning. The Santa Clara County
Environmental Health Services Department responded with a food
handlers' class for the kitchen staff. Such practices should be in
place at all eating establishments. Find out if training classes
are required upon each individual's hire and performed routinely
It's also wise to identify the facility's food suppliers. Large,
well-established companies are more likely to have better safety
standards. Check with local and state health departments to make
sure the suppliers have passed inspection.
Finally, the caterer or facility should happily provide you with
three client references. Check them. Ask about food safety
practices, if hot foods were served hot and cold foods served cold,
and if any attendees felt nauseated after the function --that's the
first sign of food poisoning.
For further information about food safety and food service
practices, contact these organizations: FDA Seafood Hotline, (800)
FDA-4010; USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline, (800) 535-4555; Pork
Information Bureau, (800) 937-PORK; Food Safety Inspection Service
Consumer Hotline, (800) 238-8281; Pesticide Hotline, (800)
Back to Current Issue indexM&C
| Events Calendar
| Incentive News
| Meetings Market
| CVB Links
| Reader Survey
| Hot Dates
| Contact M&C