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How Long Can Pizza Sit Out & Other Food Safety Tips to Consider This Super Bowl Sunday

Feb. 7, 2022 - Katie McCallum

As a somewhat rare defensive scoring play, we may not see a safety this Super Bowl Sunday. Hopefully, however, we'll see plenty of safety — food safety, specifically — at each of our Super Bowl watch parties. No one wants to get food poisoning, after all.

At first thought, food safety rules seem simple enough: Raw foods need to be fully cooked before serving. Perishable foods shouldn't sit out too long. Leftovers don't last forever.

You may be more relaxed with these rules now and then when it's just you, but you've got the health of your guests to think about if you're hosting a watch party.

And as you consider what you might serve for a game lasts for hours, you may run into some questions, including:

  • How long can pizza sit out?
  • Are dips, like french onion, ranch, buffalo and queso, considered perishable?
  • What's the right temperature to keep food while it's sitting out?

Here are five tips for serving food safely at your upcoming Super Bowl watch party.

1. Identify whether your lineup has any food safety weaknesses

Before your watch party, run through your food lineup and determine if any food safety weaknesses exist.

Nonperishable snacks, like chips, pretzels, nuts and popcorn, don't need to be kept hot or cold and can be left out throughout a football game.

Perishable foods, on the other hand, are another story. You'll need to take care that they sit no longer than two hours in the "danger zone," the temperature range where germs grow rapidly on such foods. That's between 40°F and 140°F, a range that of course includes room temperature.

Many of the foods commonly served at a Super Bowl watch party are perishable, including:

  • Cooked meats, including wings, pizza, hamburgers, meatballs, hot dogs and sausage
  • Casseroles, dishes or appetizers that contain cooked meats, including chili, buffalo chicken dip, nachos, jalapeno poppers and deli wraps
  • Dips or dressings made with dairy-based products (milk, cream, sour cream or yogurt) or soft, unripened cheeses (cream cheese, cottage cheese, queso fresco)
  • Cheese boards, especially ones that include soft cheeses like Brie, Camembert and mozzarella
  • Chopped and packaged fruit and vegetables, including slices, salsa, green salad, pasta salad and potato salad
  • Egg-based dishes, including egg salad, deviled eggs and quiches

2. Play it safe by splitting perishable dishes into a first and second string

That list may look discouraging, but it doesn't mean you have to resort to serving just chips and pretzels on Super Bowl Sunday. It only takes a few food-prep strategies to serve perishable dishes safely throughout the game.

One way to do this is to split each perishable appetizer or dish into two batches — one batch you serve right away and another you safely store in the refrigerator and reheat when needed.

Or you can split your food lineup into a first and second string from the get-go, putting perishable appetizers out first and swapping them for perishable main dishes when it's time.

If you decide to keep cooked food hot in the oven rather than cold in the fridge, be sure to set the oven to a temperature that actually keeps the food out of the danger zone. For instance, start the oven temperature somewhere between 200°F to 250°F and use a food thermometer to ensure that the internal temperature of your food stays above 140°F.

3. Keep your eye on the game clock

Remember: Allow perishable food to remain at room temperature for no longer than two hours.

This means you'll need to keep your eye on the clock and be sure that you're putting food away before it becomes unsafe to eat. Given that the average length of a Super Bowl game is between three and four hours, chances are that halftime will be the perfect opportunity to pull back the initial servings.

If you planned ahead, you should have a second string of perishable foods to trot out. If not, remember that shelf-stable foods like chips, pretzels, nuts and popcorn are fine to leave out for second half snacking.

4. Make some halftime substitutions

When it comes to subbing in your second string — safely sitting in the refrigerator, right? — be sure you're reheating cooked foods to an internal temperature of 165°F, or until the food is hot and steaming.

If you don't want to miss the halftime show as you swap food (we don't blame you), you can also consider keeping perishable foods safe the entire game by using a slow cooker to keep hot dishes hot and a chill container to keep cold dishes cold. But use a food thermometer to ensure that your setup is actually keeping hot food hotter than 140°F and cold foods colder than 40°F.

5. Watch out for illegal use of hands

Keeping food out of the temperature danger zone is one requirement for keeping a watch party safe, but you'll likely also need to guard against another source of contamination — especially if the food is left out for self-serving.

Your guests are likely going to be grazing throughout the game, so it's not really feasible to rely on the "wash your hands before you eat" mantra. Instead, have serving utensils out so that guests can fill their plates without touching the rest of the food in the serving dish.

That being said, it's still always best to follow proper hand-washing etiquette — especially during a pandemic. Consider it your version of COVID-19 protocols.

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