Hosting Food Safety Tips for March Madness Watch Parties

Hosting a NCAA Tournament or March Madness watch party? The only thing as fun as being at the big game – is watching it with friends and family and eating tasty food.

Most watch parties are buffet style – that is, guests serve themselves from a variety of dishes set out on tables or counters. This type of food service, where food is left out for long periods invites bacteria that can cause food illness.

Impress your guests by following a food safety plan to make your parties a ball and food safe.

Hosting Basics for a Watch Party

  • Arrange layout for guests. Arrange furniture to avoid clutter and create a clear path to the bathroom and snack table.
  • Let your neighbors know. If you live in an apartment or condo – let them know you will have guests and the noise may be loud.  Invite them also.
  • Test your technology. Make sure your TV and speakers are working perfectly – and don’t forget new batteries for the remote.
  •  Inspect your kitchen appliances. Make sure your all appliances are in safe working order.
  • Understand host liquor liability laws. Pace yourself and notify friends – if your game plan includes serving adult beverages. Most states hold party hosts responsible for what guests end up doing behind the wheel. Serve plenty of food and non-alcoholic beverages, and don’t hesitate to arrange a designated driver.

Food Safety Tips

Food illness has lots of causes, but primarily leaving food out too long is the main cause. Food illness generally occurs when people eat food  that contains bacteria, parasites, viruses, or toxins. Most cases are caused by common bacteria such as staphylococcus or E. coli. Follow simple tips to avoid food illness:

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Bacteria “Danger Zone” (40°F – 140°F)

Leaving food out too long at room temperature can cause bacteria to grow to dangerous levels that can cause illness. Bacteria grow most rapidly in the range of temperatures between 40°F and 140°F, doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes. This range of temperatures is called the “Danger Zone”.

Perishable Food – Safe Table Time

Track the time that food stays on the party table or buffet. Sideline any perishable foods that have been out at room temperature for 2 hours or more.

Keep it Clean & Avoid Cross-Contamination

  • Wash your hands with soap and running water (warm or cold) for at least 20 seconds before preparing, eating, and handling food. Also wash your hands after using the bathroom and touching pets.
  • Wash your cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and countertops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item.
  • Rinse produce under running water, including those with inedible skins and rinds. For firm-skin fruits and vegetables, rub by hand or scrub with a clean vegetable brush while rinsing.
  • Separate raw meats from ready-to-eat foods like veggies when preparing, serving, or storing foods.
  • Offer guests serving utensils and small plates to discourage them from eating directly from the bowls with dips and salsas.

Safe Temperatures

  • Food Thermometer. Use a food thermometer to test football party favorites, like chicken wings and ground beef sliders, or any other dishes on your menu.
  • Divide cooked food into shallow containers and store in a refrigerator or freezer until the party begins. This encourages rapid, even cooling.
  • Hot Foods. Hold hot foods at 140°F or warmer. Use chafing dishes, slow cookers, and warming trays to keep food hot on the buffet table.
  • Cold Foods. Maintain cold foods, like salsa and guacamole, at 40°F or colder. Use small service trays or nest serving dishes in bowls of ice, replacing ice often.
  • Microwave leftovers to 165°F to get rid of harmful bacteria.
  • Getting takeout or delivery? Make sure to keep hot foods hot, and cold foods cold.

Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures

Refer to the Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures chart below for the proper cooking temperatures and “rest time” of meats—the period after cooking that some meats need to rest before serving to ensure that germs are killed.

Category Food Temp (°F) Rest Time
Ground Meat & Meat Mixtures Beef, Pork, Veal, Lamb 160 None
Turkey, Chicken 165 None
Fresh Beef, Veal, Lamb Steaks, roasts, chops 145 3 minutes
Poultry Chicken & Turkey, whole 165 None
Poultry breasts, roasts 165 None
Poultry thighs, legs, wings 165 None
Duck & Goose 165 None
Stuffing (cooked alone or in bird) 165 None
Pork and Ham Fresh pork 145 3 minutes
Fresh ham (raw) 145 3 minutes
Precooked ham (to reheat) 140 None
Eggs & Egg Dishes Eggs Cook until yolks and
white are firm
Egg dishes 160 None
Leftovers & Casseroles Leftovers 165 None
Casseroles 165 None
Seafood Fin Fish 145 or cook until flesh is opaque and separates easily with a fork. None
Shrimp, lobster, and crabs Cook until flesh is pearly and opaque. None
Clams, oysters, and mussels Cook until shells open during cooking. None
Scallops Cook until flesh is milky white or opaque and firm. None

Party Leftovers – Food Safety

  • Discard any perishable foods on the buffet for two hours or more.
  • Divide leftovers into smaller portions or pieces, place in shallow containers, and refrigerate.
  • Leftover foods should be refrigerated at 40°F or below as soon as possible and within two hours of preparation. It’s OK to put hot foods directly into the refrigerator.
  • Refrigerate leftovers for three to four days at most. Freeze them if you won’t be eating the leftovers sooner.
  • Leftovers should be reheated to at least 165°F (74°C) before serving.

Don’t let your March Madness watch party be remembered for a food illness foul. Follow a food safety plan to help keep your party food both safe and delicious!

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