A Food-Safety Management Plan Is Essential for Your Event

Ask these questions to better ensure a safe eating environment for attendees. 

Food safety is one of the most critical considerations in event planning. No longer an issue simply designated for manufacturers, event food safety also encompasses meeting planners, caterers, food-and-beverage transportation entities, service providers, venue staff and restaurants.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 48 million Americans get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from consuming contaminated food each year. Fifty percent of those individuals contract their illness in commercial and retail establishments, according to the CDC. 

That means not everyone is following the correct procedures. For that reason, planners should have their own food-safety management system in place long before the meeting starts. Doing so will help to keep attendees, employees and all other stakeholders safe. 

A well-defined food-safety plan should consider aspects such as sourcing, temperature control, food-borne illness, equipment and transportation, as these considerations will help verify compliance before, during and after the event. Begin with the questions on the following checklist to initiate conversations with your venue and each event food-service provider.

Trainings, Inspections and Certifications

  • What is the venue's current health-inspection score? When was it last reviewed?
  • How many culinary team members hold a food/hygiene certification?
  • What number of team members are certified food handlers?
  • Has the culinary team taken and passed the ServSafe Food Allergen training or similar program?

Food Sourcing and Transparency

  • Where does the venue's meat come from?
  • Where does the venue's fish and seafood come from? Does it have gill tags to ensure authenticity?
  • Who sources the poultry?
  • How does the venue handle food recalls? Who oversees the response?
  • How does the venue address food-borne illness advisories?
  • How is the planner involved with all necessary menu adjustments?
  • Which farmers and local purveyors does the venue have relationships with? Which F&B items will be sourced locally?
  • What certifications does the venue abide by when purchasing food — Protected Designation of Origin; GlobalG.A.P?

Food Preparation

  • How does the culinary team manage and prepare special dietary need meals (food allergies, religious-based, etc.) in the kitchen?
  • Does the venue have menus on file that address allergies and dietary needs?
  • Who on the culinary staff knows the ingredients in the food being served?
  • Who will be the F&B point-of-contact representative for the planner?
  • Will the point-of-contact representative be on-site for all meal functions?
  • How does the chef approach creating customized menus?
  • Can the chef use special accommodations to create a customized menu for a large group?
  • Is the chef willing to talk to specific attendees to work within their unique parameters?
  • How does the F&B team receive and label food items as they come into the kitchen?
  • How and where are ingredients stored to maintain freshness and safety?
  • Does the kitchen include a separate preparation area and utensils for specialty meals? If not, how does the team manage cross-contact?

Food Service

  • How does the culinary team label food on buffets and passed hors d’oeuvres?
  • Do F&B labels include ingredients and/or note the allergens?
  • Who is responsible for creating F&B labels?
  • How are speciality meals communicated to the kitchen and front-of-house staff?
  • What is the process for labeling and distributing special meals so that they do not come into contact with other meals?
  • How are special meals noted on banquet event orders?
  • Is there one point-of-contact for guests with special meals?
  • Are servers trained on what is being served?
  • How/where do servers pick up specialty meals?

Emergency Response

  • Does the venue have an emergency medical team on-site?
  • Do the emergency medical team stock epinephrine?
  • What type of medical treatments can the in-house team provide?
  • Who on staff responds to and oversees medical emergencies during an event?
  • If there is no EMT on-site, how close is the EMT and what is the typical response time?

The F&B risk assessment and management process requires ongoing communication across all parties. Providing safe F&B options to attendees is a shared responsibility.

In addition to designing and executing meetings and associated security protocols, planners should consider adding food safety as a potential threat standard. Similarly, F&B safety should be added as an element of the overall risk-management strategy to reduce undesirable legal and potential negligence liabilities that can result. 

Tracy Stuckrath, speaker, trainer and consultant, Thrive! Meetings and Events, works with organizations worldwide to understand how food and beverage affects risk, employee well-being, company culture and the bottom line. Whether delivering a keynote presentation, breakout session, interactive training seminar or cooking demonstration, Stuckrath prompts audiences to evaluate, refine and learn to use food and beverage served at meetings, in offices and company cafeterias and at home as a way to make every participant, guest, employee, friend or family member feel safe and included at the dining table.