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What to do with the food when guests don't show

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

You've planned the holiday gathering, decorated the table and prepared the food. Then some or all of the guests are delayed or weather cancels the whole gathering. Holiday meals and other celebrations require careful planning to ensure that everything goes "just right." When guests encounter emergencies and the meal must be delayed or cancelled, food must be handled "just right" to remain safe.

If weather causes a cancellation of a dinner after food is already prepared there are several ways to handle it, depending on the length of time until the event is re-scheduled.

If guests can re-schedule within four days, cooked foods can be stored safely in the refrigerator. For longer storage, freeze any cooked meat or poultry entree or casserole. Arrange the cooked foods in shallow airtight containers or wrap tightly with heavy-duty aluminum foil or freezer wrap, and freeze. These foods will keep their best quality (flavor, texture, juiciness) for three to four months. Also, most vegetable, rice and pasta dishes can be frozen. Cream sauces may become lumpy or separate when frozen and reheated, but they will be safe to serve again.

Uncooked, raw meat or poultry can be safely refrozen, but only if it was thawed in the refrigerator. If the meat or poultry was previously frozen, there may be a decrease in quality when frozen a second time, but it would be safe because bacteria do not grow in the freezer.

Uncooked poultry and ground meats can be refrigerated for two days; red meats like roasts and steaks, up to five days. Kept longer at refrigeration temperatures, meat or poultry will likely spoil.

If you expect guests to arrive late, or have some who will be coming an hour or so after the meal was first served, remember the basic food safety rules:

* Keep hot foods hot, and cold foods cold.

* Don't let any perishable food, cooked food, meat or poultry remain in the danger zone -- between 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit for more than two hours. Leaving food out at room temperature for late arrivals is not safe. Covering with foil or a lid and sitting it on the warm stove top is not a safe method either

Leaving food out at room temperature for late arrivals is not safe. Covering with foil or a lid and sitting it on the warm stove top is not a safe method either.

If you have hot foods in the oven, you may be able to hold them safely until guests arrive. Put an oven-safe food thermometer in the thickest part of the roast or poultry, or center of a casserole. Adjust the oven temperature so that the food stays at an internal temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit or above. To prevent dryness, cover the dishes or wrap with aluminum foil.

If food must be held three or four hours it will probably dry out if kept warm that long. For extended delays, it is better to refrigerate the food and reheat when guests arrive. Food in shallow containers will cool rapidly to a safe temperature in the refrigerator. Do not worry about putting hot foods directly into the refrigerator because the thermostat will keep the unit running to maintain a safe temperature of 40 degrees or below. Before refrigerating the cooked foods, remove stuffing from the turkey and place in a separate container. Carve turkey or other meat and place in shallow oven-safe baking dishes. When guests arrive, reheat food in a 325 degree oven to an internal temperature of 165 degrees or until hot and steaming. Cold foods should be kept refrigerated until mealtime.

Foodborne illness is not an enjoyable way to spend the holidays. Handling food safely will help insure that all of your holiday memories are happy ones!

Editor's Note: Ann Ludlum is a K-State Research and Extension family and consumer sciences and 4-H extension agent assigned to Bourbon County. She may be reached at (620) 223-3720 or aludlum@ksu.edu.

Ann Ludlum
FCS Agent, Southwind District
Editor's Note: Ann Ludlum is a K-State Research and Extension family and consumer sciences and 4-H extension agent assigned to Southwind District -- Fort Scott office. She may be reached at (620) 223-3720 or aludlum@ksu.edu.