Planning for Social Meals and Events Safely
With summer holidays and sunny weekends approaching, and COVID-19 rates climbing in many regions, it’s important to make sure you follow the latest food safety and social distancing guidelines when you get together with friends and family. Here’s an in-depth guide on how to plan for social meals and events safely.
Summer holidays are here, and along with the gradual opening of beaches, restaurants, malls, and parks during the pandemic, it’s natural to want to start opening up your home for entertaining and hosting meals for friends and family too. But, the big question is, how do you host meals in your home safely during this pandemic? In light of recent events, it is clear that maintaining safe practices is extremely important, as multiple COVID outbreaks have been related to social events. However, you can still enjoy your summer social events safely by taking a few precautions. Follow these steps to plan a safe meal for your guests.
Planning for Social Meals and Events Safely
1. Safe Food Preparation by the Host. According to the CDC, there is a very low risk of getting the coronavirus through food preparation, consumption, and handling, as this is not the common route for spreading the virus. However, it is technically possible—even if at a very low probability—that respiratory droplets when someone coughs, sneezes, or talks could get on food or food packaging, and then by touching one’s own mouth, nose, or eyes the virus could spread. Though there is no evidence that COVID can grow on food and spreads through food, it’s still important to follow good food safety practices. Contrary to popular belief, the use of specific chemicals, acidic juices, salt, pepper, vinegar, and disinfectants have not been shown to prevent the removal of germs on fresh produce or packaged foods. Follow these guidelines for preparing food safely.
- Wash Your Hands. It’s absolutely crucial before preparing or handling food to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. When you complete your food handling and preparation tasks, immediately wash your hands afterwards, too.
- Using Hand Sanitizer. If you do not have access to water and soap at any point in time, it is acceptable to utilize a hand sanitizer that contains a minimum of 60% alcohol after touching any objects.
- Unpacking Grocery Items. After washing your hands, prioritize freezing or refrigerating any perishables as soon as possible. Avoid the use of disinfectants to clean packaged products and wash reusable bags with the appropriate sanitation mechanisms. To clean fresh produce, rinse under cold tap water and scrub the peels of fruits and vegetables with a clean brush.
- Clean Surfaces, Countertops and Equipment. Before and after cooking, make sure that your kitchen utensils, equipment, and countertops are sanitized, as well as the dining room table surfaces on which you will serve.
- Follow Safe Cooking Temperatures. As always, cook foods to their recommended cooking temperatures.
- Remember Safe Food Handling. Be mindful of touching your hair, nose, and face while preparing food. Do not lick the spoons or taste the food and return the spoon to the container. Instead, use a tasting spoon, which will be sanitized after each use.
2. Cancel if You Are Sick. If anyone in your social event (including you) feels any sickness at all—fatigue, cough, sore throat, fever, stomach ache, or more—make sure to stay at home and avoid going out as much as possible so that you can avoid any further complications or spread of the virus. Communicate this to your guests prior to your event.
3. Social Distance and Masks. Plan to set a few rules before your guests arrive. It’s best to invite your guests outdoors for meals, which offers better ventilation and less chance of exposure. Try to arrange seating with 6 feet distancing in mind. Don’t allow congregating in areas, such has the grill or kitchen. Require your guests to wear face coverings/masks, wash hands on arrival, and use hand sanitizer, which should be conveniently available in many locations. Do not elbow bump, shake hands, or hug. I favor a gentle nod or bow as a greeting.
4. Limit Contact of Shared Food and Utensils. When planning your meal, one of the most important practices is to avoid the sharing of foods and utensils. Plan to have your guests bring their own food, drinks, and utensils or single-use service ware. If you do choose to serve food, limit the number of people preparing and serving it. It’s best if one person serves all of the food (after hand washing). Do not share serving utensils or condiments, as you don’t want multiple people touching food items. Consider dishing up a single-serving of food for each person to avoid multiple people touching items. This also applies to service ware, such as plates, flatware, and glasses. So, for example, if you are serving veggie-burgers and potato salad, have one person serve the burgers to each guest, and dish up a small amount of condiments (ketchup, mayo, mustard, lettuce) and potato salad for each guest to avoid multiple handling of food items on a shared buffet line. Be extremely careful with appetizers, such as chips and dips, in which people may “double dip” and contaminate food items. Instead dish up individual servings of appetizers.
5. Safe Cleanup. Use gloves when cleaning up all utensils, and sanitize all surfaces and utensils carefully. Use touchless garbage cans.
6. Safe Restrooms. Offer single-use disposable guest towels in bathrooms, and encourage your guests to use them. Remove cloth towels to avoid contamination.
Visit the CDC website for more information on how to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease by protecting yourself in both personal and social activities. And stay safe!
Written by Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN with Savanna Malki, Dietetic Intern