How to Keep Buffet Food Cool

by Zora Hughes

Your backyard get-together or kids' birthday party can quickly turn sour if someone gets sick from food that was left out too long. Cold food, such as fruits, vegetables and cold salads, must be held at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or less to prevent harmful bacteria from growing in your food, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Ensure the success of your party and safety of your guests by keeping your cold food at the proper temperature while on the buffet table, with the help of ice and a food thermometer.

Keep cold food in the refrigerator as long as possible. Cold food begins to warm up as soon as you take it out of the cold, so wait until the last minute to put out cold food.

Serve dips and cold salads in bowls of ice. Fill large serving bowls with ice and nest smaller bowls of foods such as dips and bowls of macaroni or pasta salad.

Place cheeses, cut fruit and vegetables over a deep pan filled with ice. Fill deep buffet pans with ice, then lay the food on metal platters sitting on the ice. You can use decorative elements, such as lettuce leaves and tablecloths to hide the pans and trays for presentation.

Check the cold food periodically with a food thermometer. Stick the thermometer in various areas of the food to ensure that it is at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Add fresh, cold ice periodically to keep the food cold.

Discard any food that has not consistently been at 40 F or below for more than two hours. Food that has set out in weather temperatures ranging from 60 to 125 F can quickly develop dangerous food-borne bacteria that can make you sick.

Items you will need

  • Bowls
  • Ice
  • Serving pans
  • Platters
  • Food thermometer


  • Keep cold foods that will be eaten raw, such as fresh fruits and vegetables away from meats, poultry and seafood to avoid cross contamination.
  • Purchase special decorative serving platters that inlude containers meant to hold ice, allowing you to safely serve cold foods with a nicer presentation.
  • Serve cold foods such as fruit and cold salads directly over ice, if you prefer.


  • Throw out any food that you are unsure of its temperature or how long it has been sitting at room temperature. It is not worth the risk of someone getting sick to leave it out.
  • Do not allow cold food to sit out at room temperature for more than an hour if the weather temperature is over 90 F, unless it is over ice and you are monitoring the temperature.

About the Author

Based in Los Angeles, Zora Hughes has been writing travel, parenting, cooking and relationship articles since 2010. Her work includes writing city profiles for Groupon. She also writes screenplays and won the S. Randolph Playwriting Award in 2004. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in television writing/producing and a Master of Arts Management in entertainment media management, both from Columbia College.

Photo Credits

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