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Keeping Food Cold On a Buffet

Updated on April 26, 2014

Safe Temperatures for Food

Keeping food cold on a buffet is not that hard -- it just takes some ingenuity, creativity and tips from professionals. Keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold will ensure your guests safety and your peace of mind.

I was in the industry for a lot of years and still love to put together buffets for events and occasions. I was certified and re-certified over the years about food safety and sanitation. I thought it might be helpful to have a list of tips and suggestions you can use at home and for parties you host -- wherever they are!

Do you know the holding safe temperatures for foods? Do you know the danger zone temperatures?

Let's look at some ways to hold your cold foods at proper temperature on a buffet and still keep it very stylish. Yes, it can be done!

Image Credit - Mandee Sears/DecoratingforEvents

Check to make sure your catering dishes

are doing their job.

Benefits of this thermometer include:

  • Pocket-sized quick-read thermometer that's great for measuring temp in thin cuts of meat, fish or poultry
  • 5-inch stainless steel stem can get a reading in 6-8 seconds; stainless steel housing surrounding the digital readout
  • Large-digit readout, data-hold capabilities, 10-minute auto-off, plastic sheath with pen clip
  • Temperature range of -40 to 450 degrees F (-40 to 230 degrees C)
  • Powered by LR44 button battery (included); backed by 5-year limited warranty

Cold Party Food

When holding cold foods on a buffet, they have to be

kept at 40° F (4° C) or lower in temperature to keep bacteria from growing.

Image Credit - DecoratingforEvents - Mandee

When offering sandwich spreads (chicken, ham, tuna,egg salads, etc...) or dips, condiments, dressings, potato and macaroni salads (especially mayonnaise based) you should start with cold ingredients. This makes it easier to get the temperature at 40° F or lower for holding on your buffet.

These types of food should never be left at room temperature, even for a short time. Bacteria will begin to grow very quickly. Starting with already cold ingredients will deter the bacteria from growing.

When making a display for cold foods, using ice is the best option to keep proper temperatures. Make sure the ice is level with the top of the serving dish for best results. Then, check food temps with a thermometer occasionally and replace melted ice when needed.

Dip on Ice - Keeping Food Cold on a Buffet - Perfect for Keeping Dip, Condiments and Sauces Cold

Prodyne ICED Dip-on-Ice Stainless-Steel Serving Bowl
Prodyne ICED Dip-on-Ice Stainless-Steel Serving Bowl

Best way to make sure a dip with dairy or mayo stays at a safe serving temperature throughout your party is to serve it on ice. This 2 piece set is perfect and affordable. Get two or three so you can have peace of mind!


Buffet Tips

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has a wonderful article with tips for setting up buffet food as well.

Visit it here.

The orbit bowl is perfect for a party! Use it as a salad bar station, taco and toppings station, hot dogs and toppings or anything else you can come up with!

Image - DecoratingforEvents - Mandee

This is a close-up of the palm tree buffet photo above. It is set up on a sealed mirror. Ice is placed on the mirror and then the fruit and cheese directly on top of the ice. Leaf lettuce and kale can be used around the edges where the ice and mirror come together. Simple touch but finishes the look.

Image - DecoratingforEvents - Mandee

The photo on the right is of a large fruit display but can be parred down for any size event. Again, the mirror is used, ice on the mirror, leaf lettuce around the edges and the fruit assortment directly on top of the ice. You can also bury small bowls of dips in the ice in strategic locations.

Ice Bar for your Buffet

Keeping Cold Food Cold on a Buffet is Easy!

One way to keep foods cold indoors or outdoors is with a portable, inflatable ice bar. Fill with ice and place your food directly on top of the ice for veggies and fruit or inside containers placed in the ice for salads, dips, dressings, condiments, etc...

The picture to the right is very simple, but you can jazz it up by covering the ice with silk greenery garland or bushes, flowers or other water safe décor.

The products below accomplish the same purpose. The first has a tropical floral pattern and the second is another white option. Any of these three will help keep your guests safe from food borne illness.

Inflatable Tropical Buffet Cooler Party SuppliesBuy Now

Inflatable Portable Buffet and Salad BarBuy Now

Safari Themed (Animal Print) Inflatable BuffetBuy Now

And, check out this one for a Halloween Party Buffet!

Keep It Cold Condiment Serving Station - Especially Mayonnaise

Chilled Condiment Server
Chilled Condiment Server

Cold condiments are hard to come by at a party, picnic or pot luck. Keep them fresh and crisp with this condiment holder on ice.


3 Pc. Cold Food Server - Fruits, Veggies or Appetizers

Tropix 3 Piece Acrylic Chiller Container No Size
Tropix 3 Piece Acrylic Chiller Container No Size

Bottom ice compartment, food compartment and a domed lid make this set perfect for keeping food cold on your buffet table. Overall dimensions are 13½" x 9½" x 3" deep.


Prodyne's Buffet on Ice Serving Dish - 4 Compartment Dish on Ice

Prodyne Buffet-On-Ice
Prodyne Buffet-On-Ice

The food tray (upper) is a 4 compartment dish so you have the choice to serve all one item or up to 4 different items in the same ice cold dish. The lower compartment houses the ice. Very large serving dish at 19¾ x 11¾" x 5" deep overall.


You can use bus tubs or large storage containers too. Make sure they are not cracked. Lay a linen table cloth in the container, fill with ice and fill with your foods or food containers. Position the table cloth around the container to hide it. Add flowers or greenery to jazz it up.

Fruit Basket on Ice - from The Stylish Buffet Table

Fruit Basket - The Stylish Buffet Table
Fruit Basket - The Stylish Buffet Table

Image used with Permission: The Stylish Buffet Table

Image Credit - DecoratingforEvents - Mandee

Instead of the tired old vegetable tray -- make a veggie basket. These are step by step directions and in no time you will have a unique vegetable display your friends will envy.

Choose a basket from your own collection or buy one to go along with your theme or color scheme of your party.

Image Credit - DecoratingforEvents - Mandee

Having shrimp? Build a shrimp waterfall. Again, step by step directions to building your own waterfall of shrimp to dazzle your guests.

Fruit trees are also fun. Use green and red grapes (safe at room temperature) and stick them to a foam cone, topiary or any other shape you desire. The possibilities are as endless as your imagination.

It is just as important to make sure your hot foods are held at a food safe temperature. Using a catering dish and catering how to will equip you with the necessary info to have a safe but gorgeous buffet!

This is a Winware 4 Quart Round Stainless Steel Gold Accented Chafer and would make a stylish addition to any buffet. It costs the same as most Crockpots - Slow Cookers but makes a statement on a buffet table.

Keep Hot Foods Hot by Crock-Pot

It's Hot Baby!

It is just as important to keep your hot foods hot on a buffet. Check out this review article of products made by Crock-Pot -- the original slow cooker.

Cook and serve all in the same place. Less mess leaves time for more mingling. Nothin' better!

Buffet Ideas | Three Pot Crock Pot

The Stylish Buffet Table
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Buffet Set Up Using Tiered Stands
One of my favorite buffet ideas is using tiered stands to jazz up your buffet table. It's quick, easy and beautiful. Decorating a buffet is not a new concept...

How to Set a Buffet Table | Tips for Self Catering
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Setting a buffet table is an important part of your event. Are you hosting a Wild West themes wedding, party or other type of event? Want your appetizer or d...

Keeping Food Cold on Buffets

It's Important

These tips and tricks come straight from someone that has catered for years. Now you know how the professionals are keeping food cold on a buffet.

Thank you for stopping by!

Do Come Back and See Me Again!

~ DecoratingforEvents ~

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Did you learn how to keep food cold on a buffet? - Safe and Pretty is Best!

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    • VspaBotanicals profile image

      VspaBotanicals 3 years ago

      Beautiful ideas. I just love that salad bowl!

    • teelover profile image

      teelover 3 years ago

      Great tips, thanks for sharing!!!

    • takkhisa profile image

      Takkhis 3 years ago

      Thanks for sharing all these useful tips and ideas :)

    • profile image

      ssphia 3 years ago

      Thanks for these tips! I'll try!

    • profile image

      jura 3 years ago

      Great tips for a buffet food how to serve it .

    • profile image

      Torrs13 3 years ago

      Lots of great tips in this lens and very well written!

    • BestRatedStuff profile image

      BestRatedStuff 3 years ago

      I found many very handy tips here, it is good to learn from someone as experienced as you.

    • SusanAston profile image

      SusanAston 4 years ago

      Some excellent tips here.

    • profile image

      BarbaraCasey 4 years ago

      These tips are invaluable for Florida outdoor potlucks and such. Thank you!

    • profile image

      Jesssquidoo 4 years ago

      This help in people from getting sick.

    • Klinetka profile image

      Klinetka 4 years ago

      Some great ideas also for hot summer days

    • junkcat profile image

      junkcat 4 years ago

      Some nice way to keep food cold. I like the oversized deep bowls

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I bought a fill n chill table. Kind of pricy but really nice

    • geosum profile image

      geosum 4 years ago

      Really informative. I sometimes wonder about how safe some buffets might be.

    • profile image

      Bartukas 4 years ago

      Loved this lens thank you it is really very interesting and also there are really great tips about how to keep cold food on buffet thank you this lens is really very useful

    • profile image

      lionmom100 4 years ago

      Serving cold foods (or any foods) in buffet fashion is always a worry. These are very nice options to keep the party food cold.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Keeping cold foods cold and hot foods hot is so important to consider for any event and you have solved the cold problem nicely here with style....and no more concerns about trips to the emergency room for your guests like we hear on the news every now and then. That could sure bring the reputation of a caterer down the tube for a while. The other consideration is for those food handlers to really be washing their hands, I guess that's what we hear about most.

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 4 years ago from United States

      Wishing you a year of many new blessings starting with this one! Happy New Year!

    • rooshoo profile image

      rooshoo 4 years ago

      Those inflatable ice bars are pure genius. Great lens!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I'm thankful for the advice :)

    • GregoryMoore profile image

      Gregory Moore 4 years ago from Louisville, KY

      Yes, those inflatable ice bars are a great idea. I had never seen them before.

    • radhanathswamifan profile image

      radhanathswamifan 4 years ago

      Great ideas:)

    • profile image

      MegaLED 4 years ago

      super advise! thank you

    • SandyMertens profile image

      Sandy Mertens 4 years ago from Frozen Tundra

      Great advice. Most of the time people don't think about this.

    • ShineRita profile image

      ShineRita 4 years ago

      great lens.. :)

    • craftycollector profile image

      craftycollector 4 years ago

      Our summer temperature is +30 C, so this information is very useful.

    • profile image

      Cavedweller 4 years ago

      Yes I did!

    • captainj88 profile image

      Leah J. Hileman 4 years ago from East Berlin, PA, USA

      Great advice! And the display photos look yummy.

    • maryLuu profile image

      maryLuu 4 years ago

      Yes I did! Thanks!

    • profile image

      MyBabyBoo 4 years ago

      Interesting lens, well done!

    • Carashops profile image

      Cara 4 years ago

      Excellent tips, thank you.

    • heartycindypen profile image

      Hearty Cindy Penaranda 5 years ago from Ormoc City

      nice one, would love to eat all

    • profile image

      JoshK47 5 years ago

      Fantastic guide here - thanks so much for sharing! Blessed by a SquidAngel!

    • profile image

      SerenaHitchens 5 years ago

      wow the food looks good. Great lens. You can also take food handling course to know more about keeping your food safe to eat.

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 5 years ago

      Fantastic tips. Blessed!

    • profile image

      cateror 5 years ago

      Excellent advice and ideas! Seems like many people worry about keeping food *hot* on buffets, and forget that keeping the cold things cold is just as important!

    • VeseliDan profile image

      VeseliDan 5 years ago

      Thank you for sharing these informations, it was such a big help. Now I can prepare any food and it still stay fresh and cold. Blessed.

    • OliviaDaughter LM profile image

      OliviaDaughter LM 5 years ago

      Great info. I gained some new knowledge.

    • CherylsArt profile image

      Cheryl Paton 5 years ago from West Virginia

      Cool idea for a "cool" and stylish presentation of food.

    • profile image

      sandi_x 5 years ago

      Some tips for me

    • profile image

      pawpaw911 5 years ago

      Great tips. Important topic.

    • RhondaTrapp profile image

      RhondaTrapp 5 years ago

      Much appreciated !

    • OUTFOXprevention1 profile image

      OUTFOXprevention1 5 years ago

      Food safety is such an important topic! Great lens to help improve health!

    • profile image

      jazziyarbrough 5 years ago

      Love your creativity and ingenuity. Great post! Keep it coming!

    • profile image

      productsandreviews 5 years ago

      useful advice

    • BuckHawkcenter profile image

      BuckHawkcenter 5 years ago

      Boy, did I learn some "cool" tricks here. I'm an entertainer at heart, and these ideas will be awesome for this summer's entertaining.

    • neuromancer lm profile image

      neuromancer lm 5 years ago

      Nice lens, informative

    • Rosaquid profile image

      Rosaquid 5 years ago

      Great ideas. Thanks. I like the portable ice bar idea.

    • profile image

      Funny_Beekeeper 5 years ago

      Great lens! I've learned some new stuff over here that I could use for my next buffet party;) I like your food decoration ideas and I might borrow some, that is if you don't mind ;)

    • Pam Irie profile image

      Pam Irie 5 years ago from Land of Aloha

      Wow, that three pot crockpot is fantastic!

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image

      Wednesday-Elf 5 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      Your buffet foods are always so beautifully presented, and your advice -- like this for keeping foods cold during an event -- is so helpful!

    • vineliner57 profile image

      Hal Gall 5 years ago from Bloomington, IN

      Thanks for info.

    • darciefrench lm profile image

      darciefrench lm 5 years ago

      I love your decorative flair - I'm not allowed in the kitchen so I really appreciate talent such as yours :)

    • profile image

      shwetasoni05 5 years ago

      cool lens!!

    • sushilkin lm profile image

      sushilkin lm 5 years ago

      nice ideas. thanks for sharing.

    • MamaBelle profile image

      Francis Luxford 6 years ago from United Kingdom

      Great tips and tools to keep your food cool. Very handy.

    • JJNW profile image

      JJNW 6 years ago from USA

      *** Blessed by a SquidAngel *** who has gotten food poisoning before! lol... This is important stuff! I love your ideas and the Ice Bar is something I have never seen. Very "cool." (ugh - sorry - can't pass on a pun)

      Very Nice!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Keeping hot food hot and cold dishes cold is the key to successful party.

    • squid-pinkchic18 profile image

      squid-pinkchic18 6 years ago

      Great ideas and tricks here!! Thanks so much for sharing.

    • LisaAuch1 profile image

      Lisa Auch 6 years ago from Scotland

      A timely article, ready for all the summer bbq's - now just the sun? where is it?

    • profile image

      WorldVisionary 6 years ago

      Fantastic idea for catering parties. Love the lens! I've left some Angel dust for you...

    • vauldine profile image

      vauldine 6 years ago

      Awesome! Awesome! Awesome! Great lens.

    • profile image

      SandyPeaks 6 years ago

      Some great ideas here - I've been at conferences where the food was put out too early with no attempt to keep it cool - not very sensible!

    • sockii profile image

      Nicole Pellegrini 6 years ago from New Jersey

      Great advice and tips! I love to entertain and am always very cautious about maintaining safe food temperatures for cold foods. I tend to only put out small plates/cups of cheese, dips and similar items on ice, and restock regularly from the fridge throughout the party so everything stays cold - and fresh!

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 6 years ago from United States

      This really is a very big problem since so many parties last for hours and hosts wish to leave food out and available for the duration. I went to a Christmas party (drop in tea style on Christmas Eve) just this past Dec. We arrived about 45 min. after the beginning hour, chatted for probably about 30 min when someone suggested I try a piece of the fabulous cheesecake. I did and I nearly gagged on it. The fruit topping at already started to spoil. I had to sneak around to throw it away. I am sure it was delicious when it was first set out. So sad! I love the mirror idea! I will definitely have to try that. You will be pleased to know that I have a quilted protector cover for my dining room table :) Never wanted to harm the finish. That nasty hole was bad enough. LOL

    • kimbesa2 profile image

      kimbesa 6 years ago from USA

      Very helpful....thanks!