Cooling hot food, do it right to prevent bacterial growth

The way you cool and store these large amounts of food can make all the difference between keeping food safe or the growth of pathogens that can make food unsafe for eating which could lead to foodborne illnesses.

Cooking up a large pot of your favorite soup, stew or chili is a great way to plan ahead for quick meals at home. The way you cool and store these large amounts of food can make all the difference between keeping food safe or the growth of pathogens that can make food unsafe for eating which could lead to foodborne illnesses.

The United States Department of Agriculture and Michigan State University Extension recommend the following methods of cooling and storage to keep food safe. The two-stage cooling method has been used in commercial food service and is a method that can be utilized at home.

  1. A large pot of food like soup, chili or stew should be divided into small portions and put in shallow containers before being refrigerated.
  2.  A large cut of meat or whole poultry should be divided into smaller pieces and wrapped separately or placed in shallow containers before refrigerating. Shallow containers or small amounts of hot food can be placed directly in the refrigerator.
  3. Clean the sink in the kitchen and fill it with clean cold water and ice. Then place the pot of food or smaller containers in the ice water. Be careful not to let water in the sink mix with food in the pot. If you stir the contents of the pot in the ice water it will help to cool it more quickly.
  4. To use the two-stage cooling method, food must be cooled from 140 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit within two hours and to 41 F or lower within four hours. Using the cooling method ensures that food is cooled quickly and safely. Use a food thermometer to measure the temperature during the cooling period.
  5. A large pot or container of food that is hot should not be placed in the refrigerator or freezer. The hot food can raise the temperature inside the refrigerator/freezer which can be a risk for food already in the appliance.
  6. Do not cool food outdoors- the temperatures fluctuate and animals may try to get into the food exposing it to pathogens and bacteria.
  7. Use a food thermometer to verify temperatures. Never leave food in the “Danger Zone” over 2 hours. The “Danger Zone” is the temperature range between 40 and 140 F in which bacteria can grow rapidly. To keep food out of the Danger Zone, keep cold food cold, at or below 40 F, and hot food hot, at or above 140 F.

Following these simple steps will ensure that your food remains safe to eat for you and your family. So when you come home from work or other events the soup you are looking forward to eating will be safe and not cause a foodborne illness.


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