5 Rules for Buffet Food Safety

Providing a buffet for customers can be an efficient method of serving many people at once. However, this style of service comes with some food safety risks.


March 24, 2017 By Danielle Cullen
Running a buffet at your food business can introduce a number of food safety risks.

Buffets often include displays of hot and cold food, as well as food held at room temperature, which means that keeping a close eye on time and temperature control is essential.

Buffets that provide potentially hazardous foods (such as seafood, meat and dairy products) can be risky as bacteria thrive in these types of food and can reach harmful levels quickly.

And members of the general public often have limited food safety skills and knowledge and may contaminate food items without realising.

Follow the 5 rules below to improve food safety at your buffet.

Rule 1. Have at least one cleaned and sanitized serving utensil for every food item

Having one or more serving utensils for each food item discourages customers from using the same serving utensil to pick up several different food items.

This type of behaviour can cause cross contamination especially when the same utensil is used to pick up raw foods such as sushi or sashimi and then used for other items such as bread or crackers. Allergens can also be transferred between foods in this manner.

Always remove any food or utensils that you notice have become contaminated from service and replenish with fresh items.

Rule 2. Supervise & Monitor

Allocate at least one staff member to supervise the buffet or self-service area, and train them on the steps to take if they notice a possible contamination incident.

It can be a fine balance to maintain careful supervision without making customers feel uncomfortable or alarmed, so ensure that the staff member is not too intrusive and has good customer service skills.

It's also recommended to put out signs requesting that customers use the utensils provided for each food and do not use their fingers to serve themselves.

Customers should be encouraged to use clean plates, cutlery and napkins when they revisit the buffet for refills.

And children should always be supervised by an adult when using buffet or self-service facilities.

Rule 3. Manage Time & Temperature Control

Ideally all food items should be displayed in hot or cold displays outside of the Temperature Danger Zone (5°C to 60°C).

For items being held in the hot or cold food zones, check the temperature every 2 hours with a cleaned and sanitized calibrated thermometer.

Use labels to show how long food has been displayed for, and when the last temperature check was performed.

If you must hold food at room temperature, be sure to discard of any food that’s been on display for 2 hours or longer.

It’s best practice to prepare and display all food in small batches that can be used within a 2 hour timeframe.

Rule 4. Consider The Display of Food and Utensils

There are some practical steps that can be taken to prevent food and utensils for contamination.

Use lids or covers on each food item where possible, and always use sneeze guards over the buffet area to prevent bacteria from sneezing or saliva reaching the food.

Ensure that the handles of serving utensils do not touch the food as bacteria can be passed from the customers hand to the utensil to the food.

Keep raw food that will be used for ‘cook to order’ items, such as eggs for breakfast omelettes, well away from pre-prepared or cooked foods.

And keep cutlery and napkins under cover or well away from the food.

Rule 5. Throw Out Unused Food

It's best practice to throw out any food from a buffet or self-service facility that has not been used within two hours.

Never add fresh food to old batches of food, and never re-use food that has been sitting on a buffet table, even if it’s only been there a short time.