Food Safety at Church Events

November 8, 2012 - 5 minutes read

CB1As most of us know, when we are asked to ‘bring a plate’ to a church or community function the inference is that the plate we bring will have some food on it to share with others (although visitors and newcomers to Australia have at times taken the idiom rather literally!). In any case, the important thing to note is that at any type of function where food is served, safe food handling practices must remain high on the priority list at all times.

Whether you are sharing a celebratory barbecue lunch in your congregation, running a sausage sizzle, or holding a cake stall to raise funds, the food you serve must be kept safe in order to minimise the risk of food poisoning and any resultant liability claims. Food safety practices involve following certain guidelines and procedures regarding preparing, holding, storing, transporting, serving and defrosting of food, to avoid the rapid growth of harmful bacteria (such as salmonella) and also the toxins (poisonous chemicals) that are produced by certain bacterial strains.

Potentially hazardous foods – these include fresh or cooked meat items, fish, dairy products such as milk and cream, salads, cooked pasta and rice, eggs, beans, and sandwiches.

Low-risk foods – preserved or packaged dry foods do not usually contain harmful bacteria unless they are altered in some way (such as through the adding of a liquid).

In addition, certain food activities may be considered high- or low-risk. For example, according to Victoria’s Department of Health, running a simple sausage sizzle is considered to be a low-risk food activity providing the food is cooked and served immediately.

Food safety tips:

  • Ensure all food contact surfaces and utensils are thoroughly clean and dry.
  • Provide a place for cooks and food handlers to properly wash and dry their hands as required.
  • Don’t allow people who are unwell to handle or serve food in any capacity or to touch food preparation surfaces.
  • Do not allow people to smoke anywhere near food handling or serving areas.
  • Food that is cooked to be served later must be cooled down to 5°C or less as quickly as possible (within a maximum of six hours) and kept cold through refrigeration. To cool food more quickly, divide it up into smaller portions.
  • Food to be served hot must be reheated to at least 60°C as quickly as possible. The food should be served straight away or held at a temperature of at least 60 degrees.
  • High-risk food that is transported must be kept either very cold (at or below 5°C) or hot (at least 60°C).
  • Frozen food should never be defrosted at room temperature such as on a bench top. Defrosting should be done quickly such as in a microwave, or slowly in the refrigerator.
  • Consider the type of food you ask members of your congregation to contribute for an event. For a cake stall for instance, you may want to specify that no fresh cream or custard is included, and that a list of ingredients is provided by the donor.

Allergies / food intolerances

In any group of people it’s likely that some individuals might suffer from an allergy to eggs, wheat protein (gluten), certain seeds or nuts, shellfish, dairy or soy. Symptoms of a food allergy may include breathing difficulties, dizziness, hives / rashes, or swelling of the throat or tongue. It is particularly important that ministers and assistants involved in children’s and youth groups know what to do if an allergic reaction occurs (see more about dealing with allergic reactions here). The risk of allergic reactions also makes it very important that ingredient lists are included with donated foods.

Notify any relevant authorities

Finally, before running any type of food stall where funds are raised you may need to notify your local council. More information regarding food fundraisers including listings of low- and high-risk foods and food activities can be found at the Department of Health website (please note this is a Victorian site and it may be necessary to refer to your own State Health Department for information).

Written by Tess Oliver

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