Potluck Weddings: New Trend or Potential Liability

I attended my first potluck wedding last summer. I had never heard of a potluck wedding before that, but I love to cook (and I’m a good cook) so I was excited to show off my culinary skills. I thought this was something my friends invented until I started to see more potluck weddings popping up and I realized this is a new trend.

Potlucks are not new however, they have been going on since the beginning of time. People get together for book clubs or Sunday dinners and everyone brings their favorite dish to create a full meal. I remember one of my favorite books as a child was Stone Soup which is basically about a big potluck soup. I love potlucks, my friends have them regularly and I am one of the few who still actually cooks instead of picking something up from Costco. But when you cook something yourself you make sure you wash your hands a 1000 times, everything is cooked through, sometimes overcooked just to be safe because heaven forbid you accidentally poison someone. So what happens if you throw a potluck wedding and your guests get sick?
The short answer is probably nothing. In 2004, the Washington State Board of Health decided to exempt potlucks, both private and open to the public, from the state’s new food code. So there are no state laws governing potlucks. According to the Washington State Retail Food Code “‘POTLUCK’ means an event where: (a) People are gathered to share FOOD; (b) People attending the event are expected to bring FOOD to share; (c) There is no compensation provided for people bringing FOOD to the event; (d) There is no charge for any FOOD or BEVERAGE provided at the event; and (e) The event is not conducted for commercial purposes.”

Now just because there are no laws governing potlucks does not mean that if someone gets sick they won’t try to hold you responsible. I mean we do live in a society where you can sue if your coffee is hot. So if you don’t want to make your guests sign waivers you may want to stress the importance of cooking food thoroughly, keeping it hot/cold as needed, and following all other food preparation rules. Or only ask the really good cooks to bring the food.


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