A reader called this morning with a very important Thanksgiving question:
Can I bake a sweet potato casserole and drive it three hours to my daughter’s Thanksgiving in Fort Worth?
Michael Brown’s daughter had specifically requested that he make the family’s beloved sweet potato casserole, but he was understandably concerned about the food safety of a warm casserole sitting in his car and then on a buffet table.
When I returned his call, we talked about the situation, and I advised him against driving the warm casserole to the DFW area. That’s a drive that thousands of Austinites make every holiday, and I’m sure many of them have food in the car. Some of them might have even recreated this exact scenario without anyone getting sick, but the USDA says that you really shouldn’t serve food that has been out for more than two hours.
I suggested Michael bring rolls or another dish that he didn’t have to keep warm or cool on the drive, but there is one possible option. Because the “danger zone” of cooked food is 40 to 140 degrees, which is when bacteria can grow rapidly, Brown could bake the casserole the night before, let it cool and then refrigerate or freeze overnight. He could pack a cooler with ice packs and wrap the casserole in foil to try to keep it as cold as possible on the drive and then reheat it when he gets to his daughters house.
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Not all casseroles freeze well, but that’s the safest option, especially considering that a drive to Fort Worth on Thanksgiving Day could take more than three hours.
Here are more Thanksgiving-related food safety tips from the USDA.