Another concern is how long the prepared foods usually are left out. More often than not at potlucks and picnics, dishes remain on the table for long periods of time uncovered and unheated. Is there any problem with this practice?
Potluck gatherings, picnics, and parties are lots of fun and opportunities to taste new recipes. Unfortunately, omnivore potlucks can be a challenge for vegans. They also can be a perfect breeding ground for foodborne pathogens. Soups, casseroles, spreads, dips, pasta, potato salads, and many other foods typically sit on buffet tables at room temperature for hours on end. Because the host at most potluck meals doesn't have control over what dishes guests bring, there is little control over how foods are prepared, handled, stored, or served. This is true of vegan, vegetarian, and omnivore gatherings alike.
Food sensitivities are rampant today. As a result, potluck, picnic, and party meals can be particularly frustrating and even dangerous for people with special dietary needs. Not only are foods rarely labeled with a complete list of ingredients, but there also is the additional hazard of cross-contamination of both food allergens and foodborne pathogens caused by improper handling or the use of a single serving utensil for multiple dishes.
Most gatherings don't provide ways to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold, so the pathogens that can cause illness frequently abound. Contrary to popular belief, vegan and vegetarian foods are just as capable of causing debilitating food poisoning as animal products. Often people don't associate a headache, gastrointestinal upset, or vomiting with food they ate at a potluck, picnic, or party, because food-poisoning symptoms can take many hours and sometimes even days to appear. Consequently, safety measures should be taken with every group meal, whether or not meat is being served.
Remember that food spoilage in progress is almost impossible to detect. It takes only one hour for bacteria to grow to dangerous proportions in warm, moist conditions. Dangerous pathogens don't alter the taste, odor, or appearance of most foods at the time the foods are being served. Take extra precautions with high-protein and moist, high-carbohydrate foods, as these are especially susceptible to foodborne bacteria.
If you are the host of a potluck, picnic, or similar gathering, here are some recommendations to keep you, your children, and your guests safe from foodborne illness. If you are not the host but are attending a potluck event, pass on these suggestions to the appropriate person in charge.