Cooking for a crowd is not easy, but doable. With the right food safety information, and following it carefully, your party will be safe.

We are gearing up for our youngest son’s graduation party. He has been thinking about it for almost two years and knows that he wants us to serve Tacos.

He has seen each of his siblings pick out the food and help me create the perfect party and now its his turn. Each party has been super fun, but each food choice comes with its challenges. 

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has a thorough list of Do’s and Don’ts for keeping foods in each category safe. Cold foods must be kept cold and hot foods hot. Bacteria will grow in both environments. Hot summer days require extra vigilance. 

When you don’t have the right kinds of equipment such as chafing dishes and special coolers or holding containers—all of which are expensive—it might just be easier to hire a caterer.

Every year I compile a list of helpful tips to help you keep your guests safe whether you are feeding 10 people for a bridal shower or 200 for a graduation party. Most of the time, people with healthy immune systems will be not get sick from bacteria, 

but the elderly, children under age 4, and those with compromised immune systems are at high risk. 

Lisa’s 10 rules for catering an event at your home:

1. Wash your hands every time you touch something other than the food you’re preparing

2. Keep your work surfaces and tools clean. Thoroughly wash surfaces and utensils with soap and water or sanitize often while preparing or cooking food.

3.Do not use knives or other tools to prepare raw meats near or in the same area as vegetables and fruits that will be served raw. It’s too easy to confuse them accidentally.

4. Cool foods quickly to a safe storage temperature (40℉ of below). Foods need to be cooled within a maximum of 4 hours to prevent bacteria growth.

5. Do not put hot food in the refrigerator. Cool to room temperature first, then refrigerate. Shallow containers work best.

6. During the event, keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. USE A THERMOMETER!

7. Keep foods covered when serving outside to keep insects out of the food.

8. Keep surfaces around serving area clean and change serving utensils frequently (not everyone washes their hands before they eat). I swap these out every 15-20 minutes during the event.

9. In weather 80 degrees and warmer, toss any food that has been sitting out for longer than 2 hours! Serve perishable foods in small containers or wash the serving bowl and refill often.

10. Reheat any leftovers to at least 165 degrees F. 

For a complete list of “How to serve food safely” please refer to the CDC website at 

Lisa Erickson is a food columnist who loves adventure and food. You can find more recipes at or email her at

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