Check out that Caterer for Safe Memories

My wife and I have had the honor of attending a wedding held in a lovely “event center” outside of Nashville. The wedding was catered. There was a delicious selection of organic chicken, filet mignon, salads, desserts etc. It makes my mouth water just thinking about it.

Servers wore gloves and used tongs for ready to eat foods such as breads. The buffet line food was changed without dumping old on to new. Foods were held at what seemed to be the appropriate temperature.

To my knowledge no one got sick from food poisoning.

I am sure you are thinking that is a strange comment, but what if you had a precious event that you hosted and multiple people got sick. That is just what happened at a wedding in Missouri. Over 300 people allegedly got sick after eating gravy at a wedding event. The gravy had apparently not been cooled properly and fostered growth of Clostridium perfringens, which caused abdomen cramps, nausea and diarrhea. Likely no one will die from this, however I had a patient who died from complications associated with this organism.

If you hire a caterer, you expect attention to detail in presentation and service. Likely most people don’t even consider the risk of food poisoning but it does occur. So what can you do? In your selection of a caterer, amongst all the other important questions, ask:

  1. Does the service have a certified food handler in attendance at all times who is supervising the event? Does the other staff have any specific training or certification?
  2. Does the service follow FDA food safety guidelines including use of gloves when handling ready to eat foods?
  3. If serving a buffet, what steps are taken to ensure proper holding temperatures, cross contamination of foods, contamination of utensils?
  4. Has the service addressed potential high-risk allergen foods to ensure there is no cross contamination?
  5. Do they have insurance to cover any potential food poisoning event?
  6. Does your contract with them hold you harmless for their incompetence?

In your selection of your caterer, take the time to ask some important questions on food safety and you will put the company on notice that you are informed and will demand the highest standards. Most importantly your guests will be protected and your event will have the lasting memory you dreamed of.


Author: Dr. Harlan Stueven, MD

Harlan Stueven M.D. is a Board-Certified Emergency physician with sub-specialization in Environmental Toxicology and Board Certification in Medical Toxicology. Starting his career in the USAF, he served as a Flight Surgeon and Environmental Health Consultant Physician where one of his duties was monitoring food safety. In his nearly 40-year practice, he treated a range of medical, surgical and poisoning emergencies. He has been a Medical Director and/or Chairman of several hospital-based Emergency Medicine Departments, served as the President of Emergency and Environmental Medicine consulting group, a physician group Chief Financial Officer and sat on many national, state and local committees. Dr. Stueven founded Dining Grades and the Dining Safety Alliance to improve food safety by increasing awareness of food borne illness and the formation of partnerships within the food industry. He is a consultant to the Wisconsin Retail Food Establishment Grading Work Group; a Co-investigator in a CDC funded “Evaluation of Health Department Restaurant Inspection Programs” project. He has presented at several National, State and Regional conferences on restaurant grading and food safety. He is an accomplished leader, medical researcher, a champion of process improvement, author, and national and international speaker.

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