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Buffet Food Safety – Serving up Safe Buffets at Office Functions and Events

Posted by Wendy Downie – Key Account Manager

Buffets are a very convenient way of feeding lots of people at the same time.  They give people control over what they want and don’t want to eat, providing plenty of options to choose from and allow control over portion sizes.   A catered buffet helps people to interact with each other as opposed to a sit-down dinner where people usually stay at their own table and rarely go to others uninvited.  People can move around freely and initiate a conversation with other people more easily.

Whilst providing a food buffet at conferences meetings, functions and events can be an efficient method of ensuring everyone eats at once, this does present some food safety hazards.  The following rules must be followed: –


If you supply food on an occasional and small-scale basis, it is unlikely you will need to register as a food business.   However, you may need to register with your local authority as a food business if you provide food on a regular and organised basis.  If you handle, prepare, store and serve food occasionally and on a small scale, you do not need to register.


As with all food operations, it is important that the Food Standards Agency’s 4Cs of food hygiene is followed, to ensure food is prepared, handled and stored safely. The following must be adhered to: –


  • Purchase food from a reputable supplier. Check their food hygiene rating, which are published online at https://ratings.food.gov.uk/. Use suppliers with a high food hygiene rating.


  • If any raw food is stored and used, ensure it is kept apart from ready to eat foods. Store raw foods in separate fridges, freezers and display units where possible. If they are in the same unit, store raw meat, poultry, fish and eggs below ready-to-eat food. Unwashed fruit and vegetables should also be kept separate from ready-to-eat food and above raw meat.


  • Keep food covered until it is ready to prepare or serve.


  • Use either separate chopping boards, equipment and containers for raw & ready-to-eat foods or clean and disinfect between uses.


  • Always wash fresh fruit and vegetables.


  • Do not use food past its ‘use by’ date.


  • Provide plenty of serving utensils, with at least one per dish to discourage people from using their hands to serve the food.


  • Ensure suitable utensils are used that are large enough to prevent the handles touching the food as bacteria can be passed from the hand to the utensil to the food.


  • You must be able to provide information about food allergens that are contained in any item of food and drink that is being served. This must be readily available to people attending the buffet and be signed as to where they can obtain it from, such as on a sign displayed next to the buffet or stated on pre-course material.


  • Implement precautions to control allergenic contamination during any preparation, storage and service.


  • Make sure chilled food purchased both directly from high street retailers and delivered to the premises are kept at or below 8°C.


  • When transporting the chilled ready-to-eat food directly from a high street retailer, consider how the temperature of the food is controlled to ensure it is kept cold, i.e. below 8°C. For a short journey, cold food can be transported in suitable containers, preferably in insulated boxes with cold packs. For longer journeys a suitable refrigerated vehicle should be used.


  • Make sure there is the capacity to keep chilled food under refrigeration. Keep chilled food within the fridge until it is required, then prepare / handle without delay. Chilled foods being served cold should be kept under refrigeration below 8°C prior to service.  A fridge thermometer should be obtained and used for checking temperatures.


  • If food is prepared in advance and then frozen, ensure it is properly defrosted before use.


  • High risk food needing to be kept chilled, such as sandwich fillings, cold meats and dairy products should be left out of the fridge for the shortest time possible and not more than 4 hours. After this time any remaining food must be returned to the fridge and used straight from there or be thrown away.  The food must not be left out at room temperature again.


  • If there is uncertainty as to how quickly the food will be eaten, keep buffet serving portions small. Prepare a number of smaller dishes and replace the serving dishes with fresh ones throughout the event.  Store extra cold dishes in the fridge.


  • Hot foods should ideally be kept at or above 63°C whilst out for service. If there is no hot holding equipment and/or the food drops below 63°C it must be eaten or taken out of service within two hours.


  • If food is purchased frozen, ensure it is prepared and cooked in accordance with any instructions on the packaging.


  • If food is delivered cold and is intended to be served hot, ensure that any manufacturer’s cooking instructions are followed. Food must be properly cooked / re-heated to a minimum core temperature of 75°C for 30 seconds.  Food must only be re-heated once.  If food is being cooked and re-heated then the use of a food probe thermometer is advised to allow checks to be made.  The probe must be properly cleaned and disinfected before use.


  • Thoroughly clean all surfaces and equipment to remove visible dirt and grease and then disinfect. Follow manufacturer’s instructions on how to use cleaning chemicals.


  • Always wash hands thoroughly before handling, preparing and serving food.


  • Ensure that any food preparation areas are properly cleaned and disinfected before and after use and wash any equipment used in hot soapy water.


  • Use disposable cloths wherever possible and throw them away after each task. Always use a new or freshly cleaned and disinfected cloth to wipe work surfaces, equipment or utensils that will be used with ready to eat food.

For more information on food safety compliance take a look at our our level 2 Food hygiene eLearning or speak to us about our Level 3 Food Hygiene courses.


Wendy Downie – Key Account Manager

Wendy has a background in environmental health, specialising in Health and Safety and Food Hygiene support. Wendy works with one of our bigger clients in the entertainments industry helping them to develop and implement an effective Health and Safety Management System.

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