The three most important things to remember about serving prepared foods are:

Keep HOT foods HOT!
Hold hot cooked foods between 140°F and 165°F until serving time. Harmful bacteria can grow rapidly below 140°F. When food is cooked to temperatures of 165°F to 212°F, most food-poisoning bacteria is killed. The higher the heat, the less time it takes to kill bacteria.

Keep COLD foods COLD!
Cold food should be held at 40°F or colder. Harmful bacteria can multiply quickly above 40°F. Cold temperatures keep most harmful bacteria from growing and multiplying. Freezing at 0°F prevents additional bacteria growth.

Follow the 2-Hour Rule
The absolute maximum time for leaving prepared foods at room temperature is 2 hours - including time for preparation, serving and eating. Discard any perishable foods left at room temperature longer than 2 hours. If you are eating outdoors at a picnic or cookout where temperature are over 90°F, discard foods after 1 hour.


Handling Leftovers
  • Wash hands before and after handling leftovers. Use clean utensils and surfaces.
  • Divide leftovers into small units and store in shallow containers for quick cooling. Refrigerate within 2 hours of cooking.
  • Discard anything left out too long.
  • Date leftovers so they can be used within a safe time. Generally, they remain safe when refrigerated for three to five days. If in doubt, throw it out.
  • Never taste a food to determine if it is safe. Even a small amount of contaminated food can cause illness.
  • When reheating leftovers, reheat thoroughly to a temperature of 165°F or until hot and steamy. Bring soups, sauces and gravies to a rolling boil.

SOURCES:
1. Partnership for Food Safety Education — a public-private coalition of industry, government and consumer groups dedicated to educating the public about safe food handling to help reduce food-borne illness.
2. Safe Tables Our Priority — S.T.O.P. is a nonprofit organization composed of victims of food-borne illness, their families and friends as well as organizations who want our to make our food supply safer.
3. Food Marketing Institute — a nonprofit organization conducting programs in research, education, and public affairs on behalf of retailers, wholesalers and consumers.
4. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
5. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service.
6. Wittenberg, Margaret. Good Food — The complete Guide to Eating Well. Freedom, CA:The Crossing Press, 1995.