Food safety is really the most important factor in a potluck party; any party, for that matter. If the food makes people sick, you will feel terrible too! Stress keeping hot food hot and cold food cold. Be sure to tell your guests to either completely cook a recipe or just assemble it and cook at the party. Never partially cook meats, then chill to finish at the destination.
Transporting food, whether it's across the street or to another town, can be tricky. Follow suggestions in the recipes. If you're traveling a long distance, it's best to bring something that is done and can be served at room temperature, like a batch of cookies, roasted vegetables, bread or rolls, or a fruit pie.
If the host asks you to bring something like a hot dish or perishable appetizer, ask if you can bring a safe food instead. Or maybe there's a food you can make at home, pack into an insulated container, and bake or grill at the party.
Keep It Hot
Keeping food hot is more difficult than keeping it cold. Be sure to follow this ironclad rule: perishable foods can only be out of refrigeration for two hours, one hour if the ambient temperature is above 80°F.
That means that if you bake a meatball casserole, it can be transported in your car, then served at the party, within two hours. Be sure to take that timing into consideration when you're planning what to bring.
What's the danger zone in food temperature?
The temperature range you want to avoid is 40°F to 140°F. At these temperatures, bacteria can grow rapidly in perishable food. Even if you cook the food after it's been sitting at this temperature you can still get sick because some bacteria produce toxins that heat will not destroy.
The best way to keep hot foods hot is to use an insulated carrier. Many hardware stores and kitchenware stores have a nice supply of these items. If not, wrap the hot food in layers of newspaper, then in kitchen towels to hold in the heat.
Keep It Cold
Cold food is a bit easier to handle. First make sure that the food is thoroughly chilled or frozen before you transport it. Ice chests with frozen gel packs or bags of ice cubes can keep food cold for four to six hours. Follow that perishable rule again: two hours max out of refrigeration.