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Off Site? You Still Need To Wash Your Hands.

November 17, 2015




If you run a successful foodservice operation that doesn’t automatically qualify you to do off-site work.  Be sure to take your food safety program with you, including your hand hygiene program.


I have traveled across North America, doing food safety work at conventions and conferences where thousands of meals were served. These included sporting events at permanent facilities, such as football stadiums, and at temporary facilities, such as a major golf tournament. These events have provided a unique opportunity and perspective to compare the approach to food safety between contract feeders accustomed to working in a high-volume environment to multiple independent foodservice operators who occasionally take part in an off-site event. 


Many times, at an event like a multi-day golf tournament, the primary foodservice is provided by a foodservice management company, whose primary business is operating under these conditions.  However, local independents may also be involved and operate an outlet at the event. Sometimes, an independent may be responsible for the entire event.  The foodservice operators involved would typically have the option of preparing the food at their existing kitchens and transporting it to the event or they might transport raw food product and then cook and serve at the event. Simple enough, right? In fact, far too many of the local restaurants I have seen involved in events of this nature, have failed to show an adequate understanding of the risks involved in providing off-site foodservice. In many cases, if I had been a local health department official, much of the food delivered to these different events would not have been allowed into the various venues.  In addition, the breakdown in basic safe food handling procedures and lack of handwashing has been a major concern.


Some of the more extreme examples have included:


  • I have frequently noted that no observable steps had been taken to insure that adequate (any?) hand washing would take place as needed during an off-site event. Proper hand hygiene needs to be followed whether on-site or off site. Often the food handlers would not have hair restraints or a supply of food grade disposal gloves or utensils to avoid bare hand contact with ready-to-eat food.


  • Many foodservice operators set up shop at an off-site location without being properly equipped to clean and sanitize food contact surfaces during the event. Cross-contamination from unclean surfaces to food, according to the FDA, is one of the five major contributing factors to the occurrence of foodborne illness. Without an adequate supply of cleaning materials and sanitizer there is no way to properly protect against cross-contamination. The food code requires that you must be able to clean and sanitize food-contact surfaces as they become soiled.


  • Transportation of food in vehicles without temperature control. For example, cooked shrimp cocktail delivered in the back of a van at 75°F to an outdoor corporate reception is not acceptable.


  • Delivery of food within the temperature danger zone (41°F-135°F), to a hospitality tent with no record of how long it had been at that temperature. Raw or cooked chicken delivered at 60°F is not acceptable. A cooked, pulled pork product delivered at 90°F is not acceptable.


  • Delivery of raw and ready to eat food, to a Country Club boardroom, with no equipment other than chafing dishes and sterno. Chafing dishes, warmed by sterno cans, are appropriate and approved for hot holding only and not for re-heating.


What Should You Do?


If you have made the decision to have an off-site catering component of your business, you need to have an off-site food safety management plan (FSMP).  You need to recognize that to have an effective off-site food safety plan you must first have an effective on-site FSMP.  Just as off-site catering is an extension of your foodservice operation, the off-site food safety plan is an extension of your on-site FSMP.


The off-site plan needs to take into account the differences between preparing meals in your kitchen for customers sitting in your dining room and preparing meals for customers who are in a remote location miles from your kitchen. The plan also needs to recognize that the fundamentals of food safety are not somehow magically suspended because you are taking food to another location. In fact, there are additional rules and procedures to take into account if you are to operate safely. I am confident that many of the inappropriate procedures witnessed during the reception would not have been tolerated if they had been committed in the home-base kitchen.      


The Plan


First, make sure you have an on-site food safety management plan to keep food safe up to the moment it leaves your primary facility.


The off-site food safety management plan:

  • Document the condition of the food when it leaves the building. If it leaves the building in an unsafe condition you are not going to fix it when you arrive at your destination.
  • Document the condition of the food when it arrives.
  • Document how long the food is held and displayed (buffet line).
  • Document what is done with the food that is not consumed within pre-define time periods.



  • Are you transporting food that must be temperature controlled while in transit? If yes, how will you accomplish that? Will you use a temperature- controlled vehicle or individual containers within a vehicle that will allow you to control the temperature of the food?


At the site:

  • How will you hold the hot and cold food at the site?
  • How will you cook and/or re-heat the food at the site?


Food Handler Personal Hygiene / Hand washing

  • What steps are you taking to make sure the proper personal hygiene procedures are followed?
  • Will you ensure that there is no bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat foods?
  • Will there be proper hand-washing at the proper times?
  • Is there an adequate supply of hand sanitizer, where appropriate for the food handlers?
  • Is there an adequate supply of gloves, hair restraints and utensils for the food handlers?


 Cleaning and Sanitizing

  • Even if the bulk of the cleaning and sanitizing will be done when you get back to your home base, you must be prepared to deal with basic cleaning and sanitizing needs as you are holding, preparing and serving food.


Off-site catering can be a significant source of additional revenue for a foodservice operation and an opportunity to improve the recognition of your brand. However, it makes no sense to do it in a way that increases your liability exposure and puts your brand at risk.  



 About the Author

steven-sklareSteven Sklare, REHS/RS, CP-FS, LEHP,, is a UL Everclean strategic business development executive who has been working in the food safety industry for more than 20 years providing food safety audits and training, supply chain risk management, food safety management plan design and pest control services.


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