Bookings for the summer season are starting to come in from those caterers handling outside events in 2008 and this is a good time to be reminded of the limitations of refrigerated vehicles.
If you are preparing a buffet (or any other food) as part of a business, which in some circumstances could include charitable or community events, you must follow food safety regulations as drawn up by the Food Standards Agency.
According the Food Standards Agency, the law requires caterers to keep certain foods at specified temperatures for food safety reasons. Chilled foods must be kept at or below 8ºC, while foods that are being kept hot before serving should remain at or above 63ºC.
If you are unsure what regulations apply to you, contact the environmental health service at your local authority.
To have a van at the right temperature it is important to order one with standby, preferable single phase, so you can plug it in both at your premises and at the clients. Fridge vans will maintain a given temperature, if they are built well and have the right refrigeration unit, for anything up to two hours if you don't open the doors. Plugging them in ensures you keep the temperature right without having to have the engine running.
Refrigerated vehicles are not designed to bring food down to temperature, only to maintain a temperature. If you load products at 18ºC in the hope that they'll be brought down to 8ºC, it won't happen. The unit will think it needs to defrost and just keep kicking into that cycle until the products are removed.
If you're going to serve ice-cream remember that most freezer vans will achieve -18ºC and you really need -21ºC. Ensure you tell your supplier this is what you want. It can be done but usually costs more. A simpler solution is to store the ice cream in eutectic freezer boxes within the chiller.
Temperature printers are now fairly standard on vans and its good idea to use them throughout your event. You should be able to produce a delivery ticket which shows the temperature maintained throughout the event at the press of a button. Get two copies, have your client sign one and take one back for your records. If anything does go awry later at least you'll be able to state that the fridge was at the right temperature.
Make sure your supplier has enough vehicles in his fleet. This ensures they're not going to let you down on the day and, in the event of a break down, they'll have a vehicle to replace it with.
Finally, don't be afraid to ask for advice; you're a caterer, not a commercial vehicle specialist!
By Paul Tuszynski, director of Cold Logic Limited, a refrigerated vehicle consultancy, and has been supplying refrigerated vehicles to caterers for more than 30 years.