How to Make Sure Your Food Is Safe at a Gathering

Use these expert tips to keep your family, friends and food safe at all sorts of gatherings, from picnics and barbecues to birthday parties and weddings.

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Getting Together

When you’re at a gathering, making sure you and your loved ones stay healthy is important. Of course there are food-safety issues to be mindful of, but there is also a concern of COVID-19, especially when there are large groups of people. Here are some recommendations on how you can keep safe and healthy at all sorts of get-togethers.

Summer Gatherings

Leave food out in the hot sun for too long, and it’s a recipe for disaster. Bacteria love to thrive on food in hot temperatures. If the food (raw or cooked) is out for over two hours, then it should be discarded. If the temperatures are over 90 degrees F, then food should not be left out for over one hour. In order to prevent food from sitting out, keep your food cold as long as possible, and cook meats and other foods in small batches so guests eat it quickly.

Backyard Barbecues

The most important tool to have at your barbecue is a thermometer. The only way to check that your meats, chicken and fish are safe to eat is to check the internal temperature. Here are the minimum internal cooking temperatures for common barbecue foods. Beef, pork, veal and lamb (steaks, chops, roasts): 145 degrees F, ground meats: 160 degrees F, ground poultry: 165 degrees F, all poultry: 165 degrees F, fish and shellfish: 145 degrees F.

Indoor Dinner Parties

When it comes to small gatherings with family and friends you regularly socialize with, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides the following guidelines. The less travel everyone has, the less risk of exposure. If you’re having a small gathering, try to invite folks who live nearby. Make sure there is good ventilation, especially during indoor events. Shorter events pose a shorter risk. According to the CDC, being within 6 feet of someone who has COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes or more (over 24 hours) greatly increases the risk of becoming infected. Seat everyone and encourage guests to stay at least 6 feet from each other at all times.

Larger Gatherings

If you’re planning on heading to a sporting event, concert or other larger gathering, the CDC has a few guidelines to keep in mind in order to stay safe. Besides staying 6 feet apart, check mask requirements at the facility (which may be based on if you are vaccinated or not). In addition, wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially before eating.


The best part of a wedding is the buffet-style hors d'oeuvres served before the main meal. Due to COVID-19, it can be an issue. Remember that COVID-19 isn’t spread through food, but rather buffets tend to have lots of people gathering together and grabbing food with their bare hands. If you do attend a buffet, see if the servers are handing out the food individually. In addition, go to the tables that have the fewest people so you minimize close contact with others.

Birthday Parties

Long gone are the days where everyone dipped in the family-style guacamole. If you’re planning on having a birthday party, serve individual packets of food. The host can wear a glove and individually portion the food into small plates or cups that guests can grab. And when it comes to the birthday cake, make life easier and order or bake individual cupcakes as opposed to one big cake.


All sorts of conferences are back, which means many people are gathering in a room for a common purpose. Food tends to be served at conferences buffet-style to get everyone fed quickly and efficiently. According to the CDC, people sharing utensils and congregating around food areas can pose a risk. That is why if you do attend a conference, either run to be first in line or wait until everyone has taken their food. You don’t want to be congregating around the food or beverage station with others.

Local Team Sports

Kids baseball, ladies tennis leagues and other team sports are back in action. Oftentimes parents or participants bring snacks to these events. If you have food that needs refrigeration, bring a cooler, especially if the game lasts longer than an hour in very hot weather (over 90 degrees F). If the temperature is under 90 degrees F, food still shouldn’t sit out for more than two hours.


If you’re heading to the local park and having a cookout, make sure you have a place to wash your hands with soap and water. If that is not available, then the CDC recommends bringing hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.


It’s nice when everyone pitches in, but some guests may travel long distances by car and the food can sit out for several hours. For these guests, recommend they bring shelf-stable foods like cookies, beverages or a bottle of alcohol. For guests that live closer by, assign them to bring the refrigerated items and make sure you leave some room in your own refrigerator if they arrive early. For raw food that needs to be cooked immediately, work out the timing with your guest so they arrive with the food as you’re warming up the oven or grill so you can cook that food immediately.