• <h4 class="dechead">On One Hand: The Two-Hour Rule

    According to food safety standards, the general rule of thumb for foods left out is no more than two hours at room temperature. Food may still look fresh, but is considered unsafe to eat due to food-borne contamination. Spoiled food is evident, but food contamination is invisible to the eye.

    On the Other: The Fresh Food Myth

    Most people having a party want fresh and visually appealing food constantly available to their guests. Food is put out, sometimes with ice for chilling and warmer plates for hot foods, and left out as long as it still looks good and not spoiled. Not all foods are perishable. And chilling and keeping food hot extends the presentation and safety of the food awhile longer.

    Bottom Line

    The best recommendation is to group perishable foods from non-perishables and serve a majority of foods from the non-perishable list. Non-perishable foods, like hard cheese and fruit, can be chilled over ice to keep them looking fresh, but, either way, they are still safe to be left out a long time. Perishable foods, such as meat and seafood, need to be refreshed from the refrigerator every two hours to avoid food-borne illness, even if the food looks fine to eat. Refresh the perishable foods promptly on new serving trays each time. Chilling shrimp over ice or keeping meatballs hot on a warmer during the two hours is alright as it may keep bacteria from rapidly growing, but it does not prevent the bacteria entirely.


    Food Safety: Food Storage, Preparation and Handling

    Food Standards Agency

    Keeping Food Safe During Buffets or Picnics

    More Information:

    Planning a Cocktail Party

    Sit-Down, Buffet, Family Style, or Food Stations: Which Format to Choose

    How Long Can Cooked Food Be Left Out?

  • it probably depends on what kind of food it is

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