How to Keep Food Cold at a Party

Catering Buffet Lunch Table
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While summer is the perfect time to hold your events outdoors rather than indoors, it also means that you need to pay more attention to the foods you serve so that they don’t go bad under the sunshine rays (which, believe or not, can happen). This is especially true for those dishes that are meant to be served cold, as it takes slightly more work for them to stay fresh.

If you’re planning an outdoor event with cold foods, you might want to stick around. In this article, we will go through some ways in which you can keep food cold at an outdoor party, until it’s time to eat them.

Put Your Food on Ice

If you’re going to be serving food in bowls, a nice idea to keep food cold at a party is to fill a larger bowl with ice and put the smaller bowl with the food on top of the ice. You can do the same with plates, but in that case, it would probably be better to use a plastic or metal tub rather than a bowl.

If you don’t have that many serving dishes, you can always buy a pack of aluminum trays and use them instead. Just fill one tray with water, pop it into the freezer, add another one on top of it, and, when you’re ready to place the food in its designated spot, put it under the plate or bowl with your dish.

This will not only keep everything fresh, but it also won’t make that much of a difference in terms of how much space the food takes up, which is especially important if you have limited space.

Use a Cooler

While this might not be the most aesthetically pleasing way of displaying your food, it is one of the most effective ones. Fill your cooler up with ice (enough to cover the food) and keep it there.

Tip: Since the best way to keep your food as cool as possible is to cover it completely with ice, and that is often not possible without the ice getting into the food when using regular plates, you might want to consider purchasing plastic trays with lids. And if you’re someone who organizes parties and other events quite often, you might want to take a look at wholesale, as it might work out to be a lot cheaper.

Chill Your Dishes Beforehand

One of the easiest ways you can keep your food cold is by chilling your plates and bowls before you serve your dishes. Just pop them into the freezer for some time and take them out right as you need them. Keep in mind, however, that this works best for stainless steel and porcelain serving dishes – glass and plastic ones might have a hard time holding in the cold.

If you don’t mind spending some money, you might want to consider purchasing special stay-cold serving dishes – they are usually filled with things like saline solution, which turns solid once put in the freezer, thanks to which they retain cold very well.

Bring Out the Food in Order

If you’re organizing an event where the guests will be served food while sitting, then instead of putting out everything at once, bring it out in the order they will be eaten in. This way, you can keep the rest of the dishes in the refrigerator for longer and ensure that the cold food will actually be cold when it reaches your guests.

You can do a similar thing if you decide on a buffet – simply bring out only a few of the dishes, and once those are eaten, replace them with others.

If you’re set on serving all of the dishes at the same time, you might want to consider bringing them out in smaller bowls and plates so the rest can stay cool until the ones you already served run out.

Additional Tips

Here are some more tips that will help you keep your cold food chilled during your event:

  • Keep your storage container tightly closed – If you keep opening and closing your container, the heat from the outside will make its way into the inside of your container.
  • Keep your cold and hot foods separate – If you’re preparing both hot and cold dishes for your event, it’s important that you keep them in separate baskets (or whatever you’re using to bring them) when transporting them to your event’s location so that they don’t come into contact with each other.
  • Place your cold food in the shade – While keeping your food in the shade shouldn’t be the only solution you choose to keep your food cool, it can help you prolong how long your method of choice will work. That’s because, since solar radiation is not able to reach it when the food is located in the shade, for example, the ice will melt slower, and the heat transference, in general, will not be as strong as it would be if the food was located directly in the sun.
  • Wrap your food in aluminum foil – Again, while it shouldn’t be your main way of keeping the food you want to serve cool, wrapping it in aluminum foil can help it retain its temperature slightly longer.
  • Use a thermometer – Using a thermometer can be a great way of knowing if your food is staying cold enough and when it’s time to, for example, change the aluminum tray to a new one. According to the FDA, cold foods should be kept at a maximum temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.5 degrees Celsius) – anything above that, and they will start going bad.

How to Keep Food Cool Outside – The Bottom Line

Food is an important part of most events, which is why you should always do everything in your power so that it doesn’t go bad – especially when it comes to cold foods, as they tend to do it a lot quicker than warm dishes.

Hopefully, however, after reading this article, you have a better understanding of creative ways to keep food cold at a party and let it stay chilled for as long as possible.

Further resources:



  • Dacia Flowers

    Dacia Flowers is a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) with a major in Cultural Anthropology. Since graduating in 2019, she has expanded her expertise and applied her anthropological background in the practical domain. As the Administration Manager at CMJJ Gourmet since August 2022, Dacia handles crucial day-to-day operations, ensuring the warehouse's optimal functionality, timely delivery of orders, and managing invoices. Her commitment to excellence and in-depth understanding of organizational dynamics stem not just from her academic prowess but also her personal passion. Beyond her professional responsibilities, Dacia has a keen interest in reading, loves to travel, and stays active through regular exercise.

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