Food safety with slow cookers

Make sure you keep these safety tips in mind when using a slow cooker.

Opening your front door on a cold winter night and being greeted by the inviting aroma of dinner wafting from a slow cooker can be a dream come true in today’s busy world. A crock-pot can make life a little more convenient. By planning ahead, you can save time later. It also takes less electricity to use a slow cooker than a regular oven. If you choose to use a crock-pot, here are ideas Michigan State University Extension recommends to make your experience a safe one:

Safe beginnings - Begin with a clean cooker, utensils and work area. Always wash your hands before and during the food preparation. Keep foods refrigerated until prep time. The cooker may take several hours to reach a safe temperature and constant refrigeration assures that bacteria won’t get a “head start” during the first hours of cooking. If you cut meat and veggies in advance, store them separately in the refrigerator to avoid cross-contamination.

Thaw ingredients - Always thaw your beef, chicken or other type of meat before putting it into a slow cooker. Choosing to make foods with high moisture contents, like chili, soup, stew or spaghetti sauce are a good idea.

Use the right amount of food - Believe it or not, vegetables cook slower than meat and poultry in a slow cooker, so put the vegetables in first. After they have started cooking you can add the meat and desired amount of the liquid of your choice. There are many different recipes available for ideas on liquids you can add. Keep the crock-pot covered; only open it to stir or check if it’s done.

Settings - Most cookers have two or more settings as foods take different times to cook. Foods will cook faster on high, but for all-day cooking or for less tender cuts of meat, you may want to use the low setting. Ideally turn the cooker on high for the first hour and then to low or the setting called for in your recipe. If that can’t be done because of your schedule, it is safe to cook foods on low the entire time.

Handling leftovers - Within two hours after your meal is cooked, the leftovers should be stored in shallow covered containers and refrigerated. Once the container is cooled, you can label it to freeze for a future meal. Do not reheat the leftovers in a slow cooker. Leftovers should be reheated on the stove, microwave or in an oven until reaching 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

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