Oh yeah, and then there are those pesky issues of food safety. Although I like to think that a lot of people in the U.S. worry way more about food safety than they need to--keeping all kinds of things in the fridge that don't really need to be there, using anti-bacterial sprays obsessively, using wasteful paper towels instead of re-using rags, etc.--there's definitely room for concern when it comes to serving lots of people food that is made in large quantities and served buffet style. This one terrible article relays the experience of a couple (who got married the day before us) who got food poisoning at their own wedding reception, from a "tainted beef and noodle salad." A quote from the article: “They won’t talk about it,” said Doug Ness, 30, a Bismarck, N.D., chiropractor who suffered eight days of chills, fever and diarrhea. “They don’t want their wedding to be remembered that way.” I would think not.
Chills, fever, and diarrhea are definitely things to be avoided. Especially as wedding memories.
So, the first step of having a vegetarian wedding will certainly help out in our case, as meat is most often the culprit in food poisoning outbreaks that stem from improper handling. But here are some other important questions, from the Houston Department of Health and Human Services:
Q: How will they transport the food?
A: The transportation of food, and all raw products is critical. All perishable foods must be held cold (41°F or below) or hot (140°F or above) during transit. The caterers can use refrigerated trucks, insulated coolers, warming units, etc.
Q: How will the food be kept hot or cold during the party/serving?
A: No cooked food should sit at room temperature for more than two to three hours. Cold foods must be kept at 41°F or below by using coolers, insulated containers, or on a bed of crushed ice. They can serve hot foods from chafing dishes or warming units that maintain the foods at 140°F or above.
Q: How is the caterer planning to replenish foods on buffet tables?
A: The caterer should prepare many dishes of each food to be served. The back up dishes should be kept cold or hot before serving. When the plates are empty, they should be removed and replaced with full trays. It is unsafe to add new food to a serving dish that has been out of refrigeration or hot holding.
So, here are the beginning ideas I have for all of these questions, pending how much help I can get from friends, access I have to ovens, and costs/availability of supplies from rental places:
- I plan to keep the the room temperature foods (appetizers, salads, sides) in coolers during the ceremony, until it's appropriate to serve them, at which point they will be placed on various platters and in various bowls, with separate serving utensils.
- I plan to borrow the coolers from friends and colleagues.
- I plan to gather up platters, bowls, and serving utensils that I have at home, along with some that are borrowed, and others that are purchased from our favorite friendly neighborhood thrift store (I like this option better than renting because it may be about the same cost, will support a better business, and will allow us to return/re-donate these items at our leisure).
- The hot foods are where things get a little more tricky. The enchiladas will almost certainly be baked in full size aluminum pans (the cheap disposable kind), each of which yields about 10-12 servings or so. Unless I end up using these chafing dishes from a rental place, which I think come with their own pans.
- So, I can either bake the enchiladas in several rounds in my own oven, and store them in a couple of warm pan carriers until the reception at the wedding venue, when they'll be transferred to the chafing dishes (which use Sterno fuel). Or, maybe I could just bring them out and serve them without extra heating elements? They wouldn't be out more than 2-3 hours, so that seems doable.
- I could also buy a few pop-up chafing stands, into which the disposable aluminum pans fit easily, rather than renting the fancier versions.
- Or, I could bake them in our oven, then transfer them to a friend's oven at low temperature, and have the friend deliver them to the wedding venue right before dinner is to be served.
- Or, maybe I could borrow a larger kitchen facility with more oven space and call on a friend to bake them right before delivering them to the venue?