Slow cooker safety

Have you calibrated your slow cooker to make sure it is doing its job safely?

It’s getting chilly outside and nothing smells or tastes better than a hot meal after a long day away. But, sometimes we are so busy this doesn’t always happen. Planning ahead and pulling out a slow cooker can be a big time saver and budget saver for any size household.

Before you fire up the slow cooker, you might want to run a check on it to make sure this useful appliance is still doing its job safely. If you have had a slow cooker since they first came on the market, they made a debut in the mid-1970s, you may want to check and make sure this handy device is heating up fast enough to get your delicious recipe through the Temperature Danger Zone.

The University of Minnesota suggests the following steps to determine if a slow cooker is safe to use:

  1. Fill the slow cooker one-half to two-thirds full of tap water.
  2. Heat on a low setting for 8 hours with the lid on.
  3. Check the water temperature with a calibrated food thermometer. Do this quickly because the temperature drops 10-15 degrees when the lid is raised or removed.
  4. The temperature of the water should be 185 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures below 185 F would indicate the slow cooker does not heat food high enough or fast enough to avoid potential food safety problems; the slow cooker is unsafe and should be replaced.

Once you know your slow cooker is safe to use, follow these guidelines for delicious meals:

  • Begin with a clean cooker, utensils and work area. Wash your hands before and during preparation.
  • Keep perishables refrigerated until you are ready to begin preparing them.
  • It is advised to thaw meat and poultry before putting them in the slow cooker.
  • Most slow cookers have two or more settings, remember foods may take different times to cook depending on the setting used. For all-day cooking or for less tender cuts, try the low setting.
  • If the power should go out during the cooking process, throw away the food, even if it looks done. If you are home, continue to finish the cooking process on a gas stove or grill if possible. If you are home and the food was completely cooked the food should remain safe up to two hours in the slow cooker. Remember when in doubt, throw it out - don’t take chances.
  • Leftovers should be stored in shallow containers. Reheating leftovers in a slow cooker are not recommended, it takes to long for them to pass through the temperature danger zone. You may consider reheating them on a stove top to 165 F and then placing them in the slow cooker for hot holding.

Michigan State University Extension encourages you to plan meals and utilize slow cookers to enjoy hot and nutritious meals. Utilize MSU Extension’s Cooking Safely with a Slow Cooker to learn more.

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