Cooking for Crowds

— Written By and last updated by Patricia Burch

Food fundraisers, church potlucks, and other food gatherings are great methods to get people together for some fun and fellowship. These types of events are typically organized by nonprofit groups or communities that have not been trained to safely serve food, especially to large groups of people. However, events such as these can cause foodborne illness if food safety precautions are not taken. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) estimated 48 million or 1 in every 6 people get sick from foodborne illnesses each year. For example, in 2016, 50 people became ill after eating at a fish fry fundraiser hosted by a local fire department in TN. In 2014, 47 people became ill after a Bean Day fundraiser in Athens, AL hosted by a local church. Even locally, in 2013, 89 people became ill after a BBQ church fundraiser in Shelby, NC (examples sourced from Did you know that you can take some precautions to make sure you don’t get those in your community ill at your next event?

At N.C. Cooperative Extension, we offer trainings for nonprofit groups who want to learn how to host a fundraiser or even church events using safe food handling practices. This program is called Cooking for Crowds, and can be offered as a 3-hour training course or a 2-day course. Cooking for Crowds has 7 modules that teach participants about foodborne illnesses, preventing the conditions that lead to foodborne illness, planning an event, and conducting safe events. Across our state we have been using this program to teach churches, PTA’s, senior centers, and more to help reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses. This program is packed with hands-on activities, information sheets, and even a fundraising planning form to make sure your event is safe and effective.

The most important takeaway from the program is to be aware of the major risk factors that contribute to foodborne illnesses as you conduct your specific type of fundraiser or event. Those risk factors are time-temperature abuse, cross-contamination including allergies, and personal hygiene. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly, wear gloves, clean and sanitize all utensils and containers used to carry, transport or hold foods, and most importantly use a thermometer. Hot foods should be at 135°F or higher, depending on the food, and cold foods should be kept at 41°F or lower. Be sure to keep your participants safe from foodborne illness by following these practices.

If you are interested in a Cooking for Crowds training with your organization, call the Sampson County Cooperative Extension office today.