4 food safety tips for your next social gathering

The warmer weather has us craving the outdoors more than ever. Months of isolation also has us craving our social groups! After all, what defines spring and summer more than a good happy hour with your friends and neighbors?

While physically distanced gatherings of 6 or less people are now permitted in British Columbia and Alberta, we need to remember that it continues to be a critical time to be smart and safe about food hygiene. If you’re wondering how to have a safe picnic, BBQ, or happy hour during phase 2 of COVID-19 restrictions, we’ve got you covered with some tips on food safety for your next social gathering.

It’s important to note that, according to the CDC and the FDA, there’s no evidence supporting the transmission of coronavirus through food.  The virus is spread from person to person through respiratory droplets. For additional questions on food preparation during COVID-19, read more about food safety during COVID-19.

If you have questions about how to safely share food during your spring BBQ, picnic, or happy hour, follow these 4 tips to have a safe picnic with friends.

Ensure hygienic food preparation and hand hygiene

While you’re packing up your picnic blanket and preparing food for your gathering, consider these extra hygiene tips when it comes to food preparation:

  • Wash hands with warm soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after you prepare your food, after handling food packaging, and before and after eating. Rule of thumb? Wash your hands constantly!
  • Especially when cooking for others, it is important to sanitize surfaces where you are preparing food with disinfectant
  • Wash produce with warm water and a drop of soap
  • According to the BC CDC, normal cooking temperatures for foods will kill COVID-19 and other microbes in food. Best practice is to use a thermometer to check that the internal temperature of the food has reached 74°C
  • While you are preparing food, avoid touching your face, nose, or biting your nails

Continue to maintain physical distancing

While we may want to give all of our friends a great big hug after not seeing them for months, keep it cool. It’s very exciting that we are permitted to gather in small groups again, but it’s important to remember to keep a safe physical distance between you and others who you are not living with.

  • Maintain safe physical distancing, at least 6 feet (2 metres) from your friends
  • Ensure you are gathering with 6 people or less
  • Get creative with your seating arrangements – you can sit in a large circle with lawn chairs, on individual towels or picnic blankets, or in the back of trucks/cars parked in a circle. You could even have a physically distanced dance party!
  • Avoid common greetings such as handshakes or hugs
  • Consider wearing a homemade face mask when you are not eating

BYOS: Bring your own stuff

Bringing your own utensils, blankets and chairs reduces the risk of contamination, and ensures that you have everything you need to enjoy your picnic safely! Here are a few specific tips on what to bring:

  • Bring your own chairs or picnic blanket
  • Bring and use your own utensils, plates and beverage containers
  • Try bringing a fork, spoon, and knife for yourself, plus one extra spoon/utensil to dish up any food items that may be shared (this serving utensil should never be eaten off, just used to portion out food for yourself)
  • Bring tissue or napkins to cover any coughing or sneezing
  • Bring hand sanitizer to your social gathering, and use before you eat, or before and after you touch something that is used to share

Adapt your food and drink choices

While we all love a good cheese board, share plates can increase the risk of contamination. Luckily, there are some creative ways to share food during a pandemic! Consider the following:

  • Bring your own individually packaged meals if your group chooses not to share food – this is the safest bet for gatherings at the moment
  • Consider bringing shared food in individual Tupperware containers, or Ziploc bags. If there are four of you at a gathering, and you made a Greek salad, portion out four servings of the salad before you head to your picnic
  • Prepare foods that are single serving, and easy to serve without utensils. Fruit, veggie, or meat kebabs on a skewer are good options. Bonus: single serving foods also help with portion control and overeating!
  • Need some ideas? Some individually served recipes you can try include: mushroom and onion cheese tarts, peanut butter energy bites, seedy crackers, halibut skewers, individual jar salads, and tomato bocconcini skewers
  • Looking for shareable desserts? Try pre-slicing up a loaf of banana bread, or lemon poppy seed cake
  • You can also bring foods that are naturally single serving and that come with a protective skin such as oranges, or bananas
  • If you’re really into the cheese board idea, portion out servings of cheese in little baggies and distribute them to your guests and friends
  • While it’s best to avoid share plates, consider the following: if there is shared food, such as a large bowl of Greek salad, ensure each individual has their own serving spoon, which is not eaten off, and used only to dish up individual portions
  • Don’t forget your drinks, but adopt a BYOB policy! Instead of bringing a pitcher of punch or sangria, consider bringing single serving drinks in cans or bottles
  • Raise your glass, but don’t clink it! When toasting, consider a socially distanced toast by raising your drinks in the air

It’s important to follow the guidelines set out by Federal and Provincial Health Authorities, and to continue doing everything we can to lessen the spread of COVID-19. With the weather getting nicer, and the desire for social gatherings increasing as the months go on, it’s great news that we can gather with our friends! Luckily, we can do so safely using the above tips. Keep these in mind for your next picnic or spring BBQ to keep you and your loves ones safe and healthy!