Health Watch -- Party Stomachaches

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

Don't send your holiday party guests home with an unexpected - and unwelcome - gift.
A buffet style party is easy on the host and guests, allowing the cooks to just set out food for guests to eat when they want. You know your party is successful when the guests are having as much fun mingling with each other as they are eating. But nutrition experts at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say hosts need to be careful about letting food sit out for too long.

Dr. Vickie Vaclavik, a UT Southwestern clinical nutritionist, says hosts should remember the two-hour rule. It's not safe to leave foods out unprotected at room temperature for more than two hours. Bacteria can grow in foods that have been left out too long, causing food poisoning. Cream-based foods, eggs, milk and meat are especially prone to bacteria growth.

One thing you can do to protect your guests is to use smaller batches of these foods and replace them frequently, discarding the portions that have been sitting out. You can also keep these foods at a safe temperature. Keep cold foods chilled to 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder. Hot foods should be kept at 140 degrees or warmer. Ice and candle warmers can help keep different buffet foods safe to eat.

It's better to put a fresh tray of food out than to add fresh foods to a dish that's been sitting out for a while. And be sure to keep your hands, work surfaces and utensils clean when preparing party foods.