The worst thing that can happen to hot food at a buffet is for it to turn cold and enter what is known as the “Danger Zone”. Food that enters the Danger Zone (between 40 – 140 degrees F) is at a much higher risk for bacteria. In general, hot food should not be left out longer then an hour without a secondary heat source. Not only do food secondary heat sources open a whole new outlet for food that you can prepare, but they also eliminate the risk of those nasty food borne illnesses.
It is very hard for your prepared food to maintain an internal temp of 140+ degrees F without an additional heating source. The lack of a secondary heat source can often cause problems in buffets because the food tends to sit out for a longer period of time, therefore making it at higher risk for bacteria.
In order to prevent your buffet food from entering the Danger Zone, you have a few options. You can utilize chafers, heat lamps or Countertop Warmers. Your overall food service goal will depict which of these options is best for your needs. Chafing Dishes are best when you don’t have electrical outlets to plug into. Food warmers are like chafing dishes, but they are electrical rather then gas powered so they provide more even heating and therefore eliminate hot spots (Nemco Countertop Food Warmers). Heat lamps are best for warming food that still needs to be carved, such as ham or a roast. Heat lamps are also good for keeping food warm while it sits on the counter waiting for the server to pick it up and deliver it.