Food Safety Temperatures - Including Ideal Refrigerator Temperature, Safe Meat Temperatures & Cooling Food

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Why are food safety temperatures important?

Maintaining proper food safety temperatures is necessary when you’re dealing with foods that are potentially hazardous. Maintaining safe food temperatures is also one of the best ways to protect against food poisoning. Foods like meat, poultry, seafood, eggs and dairy products favor bacterial growth and can be very dangerous if safe food temperatures aren’t maintained. Always remember that 41-140º Fahrenheit is known as the danger zone. Foods that are exposed to this range for more than four hours may not be safe to eat.

Storing Food

Storing food at the safe temperature is one of the most important things you can do to ensure your food is healthy to eat. The refrigeration air temperature should always be below 38º with the food below at least 41º. Seafood should be kept at a steady 30-34º while fresh produce will do fine between 41-45º. All frozen food should be kept below 0º to ensure bacterial growth doesn’t occur. Lastly, dry food should be kept between 50-70º to maintain safety. In addition, make sure you use open shelves and don’t cover any food with foil. Also make sure the freezer and refrigerator aren’t stuffed full of food; this will eliminate air flow and keep food from chilling properly. Also check food at different places in the storage because temperatures are not usually uniform. The back of the fridge or freezer are usually the coldest place while the door is warmest.

Thawing Food

Safe temperatures should always be maintained when thawing your food to avoid speeding up bacterial growth. Thawing your food in a fridge requires only the standard 41º or lower. Food should never be thawed at room temperature or soaked in warm water. This allows too much time for bacteria to flourish. Instead, thaw food quickly by running cool water over it at a temperature of 70º or lower. You can also use your microwave to thaw meat and seafood, although it should be cooked immediately afterward.

Cooking Food

Cooking food while maintaining safe food temperatures requires a good quality food or meat thermometer. Insert the thermometer in the food for about 15 seconds to get an accurate reading. Eggs should be cooked to a temperature between 145 and 155º. Bacon, steaks and filets should be an even 145º for at least 15 seconds. Beef roast should be tested for about 3 minutes and needs to reach 145º. Ground or flaked meat needs to be 155º for 15 seconds. All poultry and stuffed food needs to be cooked to a temperature of 165º. Anything cooked in a microwave should reach a temperature of 165º for two full minutes. Even vegetarian burgers should be cooked thoroughly to a temperature of 160º.If you’re cooking a combination of foods together, go with the highest standard and measure all food at the thickest area for an accurate reading.

Cooling & Serving Food

Hot food needs to be cooled to 70º within two hours. Cool the food to 41º within another four hours. This gives you a total of 6 hours to completely cool the food before it becomes hazardous to eat. Food that’s at room temperature should simply be cooled to 41º within four hours.

Remember these helpful tips for cooling food: Make sure you never cool at room temperature. Use your fridge, an ice bath or a blast chiller. Also, divide food into smaller portions or use a shallow pan to make sure it cools evenly. When holding food, such as during a banquet or buffet, make sure hot food remains at 140º or higher and cold food remains at least 41º or cooler. Keep the food covered at all times and store utensils in the food to avoid contamination. Stir the hot food often to keep the temperature even and check the temperature every 2 hours.

Resources

Critical Temperatures for Food Service” Illinois Department of Public Health

Consumer Advice: Cook it Safely” FoodSafety.gov