Outdoor weddings allow you to take advantage of the natural beauty of your surroundings; whether your celebration is being held on a lake, beach, in a backyard, or in the woods, you've selected your open-air location because you want your guests to have a great time taking in the sights. But as beautiful as those views might be, an outdoor reception requires a little extra pre-planning. That's especially when it comes to food—namely, keeping food safe. The last thing you want to offer guests is a food-borne illness as your wedding favor, right?
When it comes to displaying and serving food outdoors, monitoring each dish's temperature is key to keeping it safe to eat. Hot foods should be at least 140 degrees and cold food should go no higher than 40 degrees. If you're hiring a caterer, be sure to ask if they can take care of setting everything up and maintaining freshness and quality throughout the celebration. Alicia Fritz, founder of A Day in May Events, says, "Hiring a licensed and professional caterer will handle all the details for you."
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While there will likely be an extra fee associated with setting up the food, it's worth the cost when you consider the fact that safety won't be your issue. With professional help, the food can be prepared and brought out just before guests are ready to eat rather than letting it sit out during your ceremony, and they'll know how to keep food at the right temperature and safe from bugs.
Fritz also recommends having plenty of refrigeration or coolers handy, creating stations for people to wash their hands, and keeping food in a shady area (and away from bugs). "Make certain that if you are reheating or cooking things that you are cooking to temperature with a food thermometer," she says. You might also consider having designated areas for hot food and cold food and renting serving equipment that helps you keep food at the desired temperature. It will also help to bring food out in batches rather than all at once. Once you're running low on one dish, you can simply replace it with a fresh platter that has been stored at the right temperature.
A good rule of thumb is that if a plate of food has been sitting out for two hours without temperature control, you'll want to replace it. Also, be sure to supply enough serving utensils for each platter or food station so that guests don't feel the need to use their fingers and spread germs.