See a letter from Ellen about the donation campaign. Your help matters!

Food Safety for Temporary Food Service Establishments/ Situations

Adapted from NF 92-57 Food Safety for Temporary Food Service Establishments by Julie A. Albrecht, Nebraska Extension Food Specialist

Food events, food stands, bake sales, bazaars and other food sales provide good opportunities for organizations to raise money, but the food you prepare and offer must be safe for the consumer. When customers buy food, they have the right to expect that it will be safe and wholesome. If customers are unhappy with the products they purchase from you, they will not be back. Word-of-mouth advertisement from a bad experience may hurt future business. Sponsoring organizations are responsible for the safety of the food products they offer. Most states have regulations which apply to food events; for example the Nebraska Food Service Code has rules for Temporary Food Service Establishments. Food stands, bake sales, bazaars, and community suppers could be inspected by the Department of Agriculture or Department of Health under this ruling. Bake sales and church/community suppers are not routinely inspected, but commercial food stands at county fairs and other events are. If complaints are made or if a reported illness results from food sold at an event, inspection and/or investigation may result.  

A "Temporary Food Service Establishment" is defined as a food service establishment that operates at a fixed location for a period of time of not more than 14 consecutive days in conjunction with a single event or celebration. If your food sale event extends beyond this definition, your event and facilities will be regulated by the appropriate agency (either the Nebraska Department of Agriculture or your local health department).  

Potentially hazardous foods

Certain foods have been implicated in numerous foodborne illness outbreaks. These foods include: meat and poultry; pastries made with cream or custard fillings; salads and sandwiches made with meat, poultry, eggs or fish; and home canned low acid foods such as vegetables and meats. Reports of foodborne illness have made the headlines in recent years, but many cases of foodborne illness go unreported because the symptoms are similar to the flu. Most foodborne illness outbreaks have involved food prepared away from home, but food prepared under home conditions also may cause these flu-like symptoms. Foods contaminated with microorganisms are the most common cause of foodborne illness. Contaminated food usually does not taste bad, smell bad or look bad.

What food handling practices contribute to foodborne illness? If we look at the cause of reported foodborne illness outbreaks, we have some clues where microbial contamination occurs. The ten most important errors which contributed to recently reported foodborne illnesses in the United States are listed below. Ways to prevent a foodborne outbreak from food served at your event is included in the discussion.

Improper cooling

Two procedures cause these problems: leaving cooked foods at room temperature and storing foods in large containers in refrigerators. Foodborne microorganisms grow best at temperatures between 40 degreesF and 140degreesF. Food left at room temperature for more than two hours provides the ideal conditions for microorganisms to multiply rapidly. 
  • Keep foods that are served cold at 40 degreesF.
  • Keep foods that are served hot at or above 140 degreesF.
  • Keep an instant read thermometer handy to check the temperatures often.
  • Do not leave food out for more than two hours. Remember the 140/2/40 rule; discard all food which has spent more than 2 hours between 40 and 140 degrees.
  • Maintain refrigerator at 40 degreesF and freezer at 0 degreesF.

Hot food stored in large containers in refrigerators or freezers cannot cool down quickly. Microorganisms again have the conditions which favor rapid growth.

  • Store foods in small shallow containers and refrigerate them immediately. Fod should be no more than 2 inches deep.
  • Use ice baths to chill foods quickly and to keep them cold.
  • Do not leave hot foods at room temperature before refrigeration. Transfer to cold pans and refrigerate hot foods immediately.
  • Ice used to keep food cold should not be used for human consumption.

Lapse of 12 or more hours between preparation and eating

Microorganisms need time to grow and multiply.
  • By reducing the amount of time between preparation and eating of food, we reduce the chances of any microorganisms present from growing to large numbers.
  • Shorten the length of time between preparation and the sale of the food items.

Colonized or infected persons handling foods

Staphylococcus bacteria is found naturally on our bodies. If we have sores or pimples, these have higher numbers of this bacteria. People who are ill also have higher numbers of microorganisms that cause illness. Food handlers should practice a high degree of personal hygiene and cleanliness.
  • Wash hands often when handling raw foods such as poultry and meats; after coughing or blowing your nose; after handling garbage; and after using the bathroom facilities.
  • If cuts or skin breaks do exist on hands, use plastic gloves.
  • Use utensils as much as possible; tongs work well for handling raw vegetables and other "finger" foods.
  • Protect foods from dust, sneezing, and handling by customers.
  • Use appropriate packaging and covers on food. If possible, provide dust/sneeze guards on serving lines.

Inadequate reheating

Cooked foods may become contaminated after heating. If these foods are not reheated to at least 165 degreesF, microorganisms may not be destroyed.
  • Pre-cooked foods purchased for reheating should be heated to an internal temperature of at least 165 degreesF.
  • Check temperature in pans of food at the center with an instant read thermometer.
  • Because of the dangers of inadequate reheating, leftovers should not be used in temporary food service establishments. Unused food prepared for serving and left over should be discarded.

Improper hot holding

Hot foods held below 140 degreesF encourage the rapid growth of microorganisms. Foods on a buffet table should be checked often.
  • Use warming plates or crock pots to keep food at or above 140 degreesF.
  • Use a thermometer to measure the temperature of the hot food.
  • Do not mix a fresh hot batch of a food item to an existing item.
  • Prepare several small batches rather than one large batch to replenish food.
  • Do not leave hot food set at room temperature for more than two hours.

Contaminated raw food or ingredients

Foods which come into contact with dirt and manure (eggs and produce grown with manure as a fertilizer) will contain a large number of microorganisms. Cracked eggs are also considered contaminated.
  • Wash foods with water to remove dirt and manure.
  • Do not use cracked eggs.
  • Prevent rodents, insects, birds, animals, etc. from having contact with food.
  • Store chemicals (cleaning solutions) away from food.
  • Avoid using chemical insecticides to control insects.
        1. Foods from unsafe sources
  • Illnesses have been reported from eating fish or seafood obtained from sources with unsafe water.
  • Obtain foods from reliable sources.
  • Thoroughly cook fish and other foods that may contain a large number of microorganisms.

Improper cleaning of equipment and utensils

Food left on equipment and utensils help microorganisms survive for a period of time. When the equipment or utensil is used microorganisms will be transferred to the food.
  • Wash with hot soapy water and sanitize equipment after use. If equipment has been stored for a long period of time, wash and sanitize before use.
  • Wash equipment with hot soapy water after each food use when using the same piece of equipment for preparing several foods.
  • Wash and sanitize food contact surfaces; for example: counters, tables, refrigerators, etc.

Cross contamination from raw to cooked foods

Juices from raw meat and poultry which come in contact with cooked food may recontaminate the cooked foods with microorganisms. Raw fruits and vegetables also can contaminate cooked foods if these foods are not properly cleaned.
  • Use clean dishes and utensils for food preparation.
  • Keep cooked and raw foods separated in food storage and preparation areas.
  • Thaw raw meats and poultry in the refrigerator in a way so juices do not drip on other foods.
  • Wash hands, utensils and food contact surfaces often when handling raw meat, poultry, and eggs.
  • Use food containers designed for food for food storage; don't use containers which originally contained cleaning products.
  • Use utensils or plastic gloves to handle and serve food rather than hands.
  • Do not reuse disposable items such as plastic bags, plastic spoons, etc.

Inadequate cooking

Eating undercooked meats has resulted in foodborne illness outbreaks. The most serious cases of inadequate cooking results from not properly processing canned low acid foods. The spores of the botulinum microorganism can survive boiling temperatures. Improperly canned low acid foods may contain the deadly toxin that is produced when spores grow into bacteria and multiply.
  • Cook ground meats, poultry, fish, and eggs thoroughly.
  • Cook poultry to an internal temperature 180 degreesF; pork to 160 degreesF; ground beef to 160 degreesF.
  • Home canned foods should not be used for temporary food service events.

Transporting Food

Occasionally food is prepared at one location and transported to a serving site. Safe food handling practices are critical, not only during preparation, but also when transporting food. Cold foods must be kept cold (40 degreesF) and hot foods must kept hot (140 degreesF or above).
  • Use insulated carrying containers that maintain the food at the appropriate temperature. Ice chests can be used for hot or cold foods.
  • All vehicles used for transporting food should be kept in good sanitary condition.
  • Do not transport food in vehicles that have been used to carry pets, trash, chemicals, fertilizers, or pesticides without thoroughly cleaning the compartment or vehicle.
  • Foods and animals should not be transported together.
  • When food is delivered to the intended location, immediately store food to maintain the proper temperature and to prevent contamination.


Good housekeeping is important. Many types of cleaning and sanitizing solutions are available. Below are solutions made with chlorine bleach for washing dishes and cleaning food contact surfaces. Store chemicals away from food. Use unscented, regular liquid chlorine bleach.
  • Washing Dishes: 1 tablespoon chlorine bleach per gallon of water plus soaking in chlorinated rinse water for at least 3 minutes.
  • Washing Food Contact Surfaces: 2 tablespoons chlorine bleach per gallon of water.

Finally, think about food handling at point of sale

Handling money contaminates hands.
  • Customers should not handle unwrapped food before purchase.
  • If possible, have different people handle food service and money.
  • AlwaysWash hands after handling money before handling food.

For more information, contact the Nebraska Department of Agriculture or local health departments (Lincoln-Lancaster, Douglas County, Grand Island, Hastings, and Scottsbluff). Your local Extension office can provide general information on safe food handling practices.


1. Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) Systems for Retail Food and Restaurant Operations. J. Food Protect. 53:978, 1990.
2. Food Safety for Bazaars. Illinois Extension Service. 1986.
3. Keep Food Safe. Colorado Cooperative Extension. 1989.
4. Food Service Code. Nebraska Department of Agriculture. 1976 Recommendations of the Food and Drug Administration.
5. Food Service Sanitation Guidelines to Avoid Food Poisoning Outbreaks. Dairy, Food  and Environmental Sanitation. 11:430, 1991.
6. Guidelines for Satisfactory Food Protection and Sanitation Practices. Dairy, Food and Environmental Sanitation. 9:365, 1989. NF57 Electronic version issued July 1995