Top 4 Food Safety Challenges in Catering

Caterers have a unique set of food safety challenges. Learn how you can prepare for them and set your business up for success.
Top 4 Food Safety Challenges in Catering
January 20, 2022

Planning to open a catering business? Catering and restaurant businesses have the same food safety standards to follow, although having to work with travel times, unfamiliar venue facilities and changing menu requirements can pose a unique set of food safety challenges for caterers.

Learn more about our top 4 food safety challenges in catering, and how you can prepare your catering business for these common issues.

1. Preparing food at different venues

Ensuring food safety means making sure that proper processes for time and temperature control, cross-contamination prevention and cleaning and sanitization procedures are in place. This can be challenging when preparing food at different venues because caterers may be unfamiliar with the space, and the proper facilities may not always be available as they would be at a restaurant.

Before finalizing an event contract, caterers should review the venue facilities to ensure they are up to food safety standards. Helpful questions to ask include:

  • Is there a kitchen at the venue that comes with an adequate fridge and freezer space?
  • Does the kitchen have a stovetop and oven that can accommodate the type of meals and number of dishes to prepare?
  • Is the kitchen adequately laid out with ample counter space so that you can separate raw foods from ready-to-eat foods, as well as allergens, to help prevent cross-contamination?
  • Can the number of outlets accommodate the equipment you’ll need?
  • Is there running hot and cold potable water?

Checking facility capabilities will help caterers determine whether they can prepare the food at the venue or if they will need to transport cooked food from another location. Remember to do this before committing to catering the event!

2. Bringing the proper equipment

From dishware, to table settings to food displays, caterers are familiar with needing equipment to transport, prepare and serve their food properly. When it comes to food safety, there are specific equipment that caterers should always remember to bring or confirm if readily available at the venue, which includes:

  • sanitary preparation and serving tools such as cutting boards, serving trays and tongs or spoons for serving
  • gloves, cleaning supplies and waste and compost bags
  • reheating tools such as a cooking range, oven, microwave or steamer
  • hot holding equipment to keep food at a safe temperature for the whole event, such as hot holding trays that can keep food at 60°C / 140°F or above
  • display units for cold foods that can be pre-chilled to 4°C / 40°F or below
  • properly calibrated thermometers to check that food is being kept at the right temperatures throughout the whole event
  • additional uniforms and aprons to ensure staff clothing is kept clean, sanitary and presentable

3. Transporting food properly

Transporting food to the venue is one of the biggest challenges as a caterer because food must be kept at the right temperature to prevent harmful bacteria from growing. Foods must be kept to temperatures of:

  • 60°C / 140°F and above for hot foods
  • 4°C / 40°F or below for cold foods
  • -18°C / 0°F or below for frozen foods

A few tips that caterers should keep in mind when transporting food:

  • Insulated food pan carriers, insulated thermal liners and refrigerants can help keep food hot or cold.
  • Keep cold foods separate from foods that could spoil at low temperatures.
  • Outdoor coolers can be used to transport drinks and ice.
  • Keep different foods and ingredients in food-safe containers that can be easily separated to help prevent cross-contamination.
  • Factor in travel time to the venue and potential traffic to determine what equipment you’ll need to make sure food is kept safe during transportation.

4. Ensuring proper allergen management

As with all food businesses, caterers should prioritize proper allergen management to help protect their clients and guests from experiencing an allergic reactions. With potentially different menu options and dietary restrictions for each event, staying on top of allergen management could pose more unique challenges for caterers.

When setting the menu for an event, ask clients about any dietary restrictions to keep in mind such as vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options as well as allergy requirements. If you have a set menu in place that can accommodate these dietary requirements, make sure this information is added on the menu or catering brochure.

Ensure that your client and their event guests can easily get the information that they need; have ingredient information readily available and add known allergens on the menu. Train servers to know all of the ingredients in each dish and whether there are any known allergens that could cause an allergic reaction.

Proper allergen management also means following all standard food safety measures, such as maintaining proper hand hygiene and preventing cross-contamination of different foods. Learn more ways to protect your customers from experiencing an allergic reaction using the CIFS Guide to Allergen Management for Food Businesses.

While catering businesses face their own unique set of food safety challenges, ensuring that all staff have proper food safety training goes a long way in helping your business succeed. From learning about proper time and temperature control to gaining comprehensive knowledge in serving and dispensing food safely, the Canadian Institute of Food Safety’s Food Handler Certification Course provides you and your staff with the knowledge needed to face these challenges head-on.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do caterers assess and handle dietary preferences and restrictions for large events?

Caterers assess and handle dietary preferences and restrictions for large events by gathering detailed information from clients during the planning phase. This includes specific dietary needs such as allergies, religious dietary laws and personal preferences. They then craft menus that accommodate these requirements and ensure clear labelling on dishes during the event.

Additionally, caterers often provide training to teach their staff how to handle special dietary requests properly and prevent cross-contamination.

What are the most effective ways to train catering staff on maintaining food safety across various event venues?

The most effective ways to train catering staff on maintaining food safety across various event venues include conducting comprehensive training sessions that cover key food safety principles, such as proper food handling, temperature control and cross-contamination prevention.

It's also crucial to adapt training to address the specific challenges of different venues, such as outdoor settings or venues without full kitchen facilities. Regularly updating training to include the latest food safety regulations and best practices, along with providing practical demonstrations and assessments, ensures staff are well-prepared for any event scenario.

How does catering food safety management differ when dealing with outdoor events compared to indoor events?

Catering food safety management for outdoor events often involves additional precautions compared to indoor settings. These differences include ensuring proper food temperature control without typical kitchen facilities, protecting food from environmental contaminants like insects and dust as well as securing adequate handwashing stations and sanitizing facilities for staff.

The logistics of outdoor events are generally more complex, requiring more rigorous planning, such as portable refrigeration units and covered serving areas, to maintain food safety standards under variable outdoor conditions.