Are important because big or small, earthy or extravagant – all events need to be concerned with safety!
Equipment: Menus need to be planned around the equipment available, not the other way around. Most groups do not have the range of equipment available to a commercial kitchen:
Refrigeration: We read about food poisoning from community dinners every year. Its important to plan the menu around the amount of refrigeration available on site to reduce this risk. Food that is kept between 40 and 140 degrees F breeds bacteria that produce toxins, which cannot be killed by either heat or cold.
When fridge space is limited, the following should be avoided on the menu: mayonnaise, raw or cooked eggs, dairy products, creamy dressings, raw onions in any of the food and poultry.
In addition, if space is tight menus should only have one type of meat to avoid the risk of cross contamination.
Coolers with ice can be used for other types of foods for short term only, but cannot be used for any of the foods previously listed.
Refrigerators must not be so crowded that the air cannot circulate around. Otherwise food will not stay chilled.
Before the event, check the temperature of the fridge at least once. Repairmen and/or parts may not be available the day of the event : )
The menu also needs to be planned around the cooking equipment available. If all of the food cannot be cooked within the same time frame, some food is going to wind up done ahead and perhaps held at an unsafe temperature.
Before planning the menu, survey the equipment available. If equipment is limited on site, some foods may be cooked by volunteers in their own kitchens if they live very close.
If cooking equipment is limited, keep the menu simple. Its the only way to feed everyone hot food at the same time.
One sink should be set aside for handwashing for the kitchen volunteers
All food preparation surfaces should be washed with hot soapy water and rinsed with a mild bleach solution ( 1 tbsp per quart of water) beforehand and after preparing each item.
There should be separate cutting boards for vegetables and each kind of meat or fish to minimize cross contamination.
If pots and pans are not used regularly, they must be washed beforehand.
All fruit and vegetables, even the ones that will be peeled, must be carefully washed.
Enterprising gardeners may want to bring buckets in to claim the vegetable scraps for their compost bins. If so, these buckets must be sterilized if they are to be in the food preparation area.
New cleaning cloths and sponges must be bought. At dollar store prices, it won’t break any budget and will be safer than previously used washing cloths that may be contaminated.
All cleaning supplies must be kept completely separate from the food. Ditto with brooms and mops.
Handwashing is critically important and must be done after all breaks of all kinds, after preparing/handling each different food and every time anyone works with anything outside of the kitchen.
Hair should be tied back if long. The pros use hair nets and hats to keep hair out of food as well.
At the risk of stating the obvious, clothes and shoes worn in the kitchen must be clean. Breathable, natural fabrics will be cooler and pose less risk of fire hazards as well.
If you don’t have food service professionals in your group, at least one person should be sent on a Safe Food Handlers Course. These are run locally, in community colleges and by some employers and community groups. Normally it only involves a couple of days and a very modest tuition fee.
Someone in the group must have up to date first aid certification.
Basic firefighting skills are almost essential. Check your local firehall to see if they do any community training.
If noone in the group has ever run a dinner before, try to volunteer with another group to get a hands on feel for the process.
Prices vary according to season. When planning the menu, it would be a help to have the input of at least one observant member of the group who normally shops a lot.
Make a master shopping list, based on the menu. Have at least one member of the group use it to keep their finger on the pulse of local prices well in advance of the event.
Purchase dry items ( flour, dried pasta, etc) whenever it is on sale, as long as you have a cool dry place to store it, indoors and not sitting on the floor.
If refrigeration is limited, order perishable food ahead but arrange for a pickup as close to the event as possible.
If you are buying a large quantity of meat, often the seller will keep it refrigerated/frozen until you are ready for pickup.
Buy inspected meat.
Check all expiry dates before purchase.
If volunteers are short, consider buying salads and meat trays.
Shop around. Prices really do vary. If you are buying in quantity you may get a discount if most things are purchased in one place.
PS Ask all sellers about donations.
General safety issues:
Parking – make sure there are enough safe places to park. If parking is limited for your event, that should be advertised beforehand.
Security – even in this day and age, not everybody is Pagan friendly. If you are hosting a Pagan event or fundraiser, volunteers should be detailed for this. Its not a bad idea to let the local police know in advance either, so if there is an emergency, its not a challenge for them to find your location.
Outdoor events should have either tentage or a rain date.
Events near water should have someone detailed to watch the children playing, even if its too cold for swimming.
Handicapped access and parking should be investigated beforehand
For most of the year, even on private land, fire permits are required for any open fires. Find out beforehand if this applies to your plans
Officially including alcohol as part of the event usually involves permits and licenses as well as a legal liability for any consequences.
Most safety issues can be avoided by being realistic about the skills that the volunteers bring to the table and what can be safely accomplished with the equipment at hand. Accidents are most likely to happen when people are rushed and worried about timelines.
If, to use a military expression, the objectives are achievable, events run smoother and its easier to get volunteers for the next event.