Potluck Parties: Festive or Fatal?

Potlucks are old-fashioned, thrifty, low-key, newly hip, convivial, and deadly. Or so suggests a scaremongering story published in the Los Angeles Times. For some, it says, potlucks are “a minefield of food-poisoning bacteria waiting to wreak havoc.”

Supposedly framed from the perspective of disease-phobic potluck haters, the article is an unhinged terror vehicle for every variety of food-sharing fear conceivable by the human mind. It’s odd that it seems to arbitrarily target the potluck, as opposed to the dinner party, or cooking for your own family, which share almost all of the same risks cited. Some writers would interpret a doctor saying that potlucks produce far fewer reports of illness than restaurants as a sign that they are relatively safe. Not the Times:

“Dr. Roshan Reporter, a medical epidemiologist with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, acknowledges that potlucks can be risky. Although the department gets far fewer reports of food poisoning from potlucks than it does from restaurants, she says, those numbers ratchet up a bit around the holidays, when potlucks are in full swing.”

Typical of the article’s general tone is a random list of three horrible food-borne diseases that could, in theory, be obtained by eating food at a potluck. Here’s the brief note on salmonella:

“This bacteria is commonly found in the intestinal tracts of animals and can also cause fever, abdominal cramps and diarrhea, but those with compromised immune systems may fare worse, even die. People most often get salmonella poisoning by eating food contaminated by animal feces; if meat isn’t cooked to the proper temperature, the bacteria might not be killed off.”

Anyway, happy holidays.