Food Temperature  |  10 mins read

All Things Food Temperature

Dakota Sheetz

Food Temperature and Food Safety

Although the United State's food supply is one of the safest in the world, the CDC estimates that each year roughly 48 million people, or roughly 1 in 6 Americans, get sick as a result of foodborne diseases. If food industry professionals maintain the proper temperature of their foods many foodborne diseases and food safety compliance violations could be prevented.

Bacteria is an unavoidable part of nature, existing in soil, air, water, and the food we consume. Thankfully, there are many methods that food industry professionals can undertake that have been proven to decrease the proliferation and transmission of bacteria.

The number of bacteria a person ingests directly correlates with their potential of becoming ill. Ingesting a small number of disease-causing bacteria may create mild or no illness. However, the majority of these same bacteria can cause very severe or fatal illness. If food is not held properly, pathogenic bacteria may reproduce rapidly, greatly increasing the risk of foodborne illness.

A major food violation could bring massive financial consequences to your business via lawsuits, fines, penalties, and even permanent closure of your business. If food industry professionals properly maintained their product, many major violations, and foodborne diseases could be prevented.

The Role of Temperature in Foodborne Illness Outbreaks

Each year in the United States 128,000 people are hospitalized and 3,000 people die from foodborne illnesses. These illnesses and deaths are especially tragic because they could largely have been prevented.

The most common risk factors that result in foodborne illnesses include-

  • Improper hot or cold holding and cooking temperatures of food, especially potentially hazard foods
  • Contaminated or unsanitary utensils and equipment
  • Poor employee health and hygiene
  • Food from unsafe sources

Regardless of where food is prepared, the presence of any of these risk factors dramatically increases foodborne illness potential. If any of these risks are observed in a retail food facility, it constitutes a major violation that necessitates immediate corrective action.

An unintended mistake could result in the injury, and in the worst-case scenario, even the death of a consumer. Food industry professionals across the supply chain must strictly implement and monitor food safety precautions to the best of their ability, at all times.

Online employee scheduling software that makes shift planning effortless.
Try it free for 14 days.

What is the Danger Zone?

Decreasing bacteria is an effective way to protect customers from foodborne illnesses. Bacteria grow most rapidly in the danger zone.

The temperature danger zone ranges between 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit. In this zone, bacteria doubles in number in as quickly as 20 minutes. Regardless if you are cooking, preparing, or holding food, the temperature danger zone must be avoided as much as possible.

It is the responsibility of all food industry professionals to prepare and hold foods outside of the temperature danger zone as much as possible. As a general rule, foods should enter their proper zones within 2 hours. For cold foods, the safe zone is below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. For hot foods, the safe zone is above 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

Even in cooler climates, perishables should never be left out for more than two hours. Your food should not be in the danger zone for more than an hour if you are operating in an environment that is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, as warmer environments encourage rapid bacteria growth. The easiest way to keep food out of the temperature danger zone is by regular and frequent monitoring.

Below are some important thermometer tips to avoid the temperature danger zone-

  • Monitor your refrigerator and/or freezer consistently. Consider employing a secondary refrigerator or freezer thermometer, as the thermometer built into your appliance may not be accurate
  • Keep a written record including the thermometer reading along with the exact time the temperature was taken
  • Clean and calibrate thermometers regularly
  • Frequently test employee understanding of proper thermometer handling and usage

Proper storage is an essential component for reducing foodborne illness and maintaining compliance standards. Securely covering leftovers decreases the likelihood of outside contamination.

Clearly label containers with a date made, or use by, date in order to consume before expiration and decrease your food waste footprint.

An even more effective measure against foodborne illness is to avoid holding or storing food whenever possible. It's recommended to-
  • Cook and process as close to the time of service as possible.
  • Plan menus carefully to avoid excessive leftovers.
  • Keep fresh and leftover food apart to avoid cross-contamination.

For larger operations, it may not be feasible to avoid storing and holding food. Whenever it is not avoidable, creating, and maintaining the proper environment for your product should always include both extensive research and carefully executed actions.

Food industry professionals often must hold hot food or cold food for prolonged periods of time. Examples of this include salad bars, transportation to off-site locations, catering events, and buffet lines. Both hot holding and cold holding are essential to food safety compliance and decreasing foodborne illness.

What is Hot Holding?

Hot holding dictates that potentially hazardous foods that are going to be held at high temperatures must be held at 135 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

Hot holding method examples include crock pots, heat lamps, steam tables, double boilers, and hot holding cabinets or cases. By being especially wary of hot holding, food industry professionals can greatly mitigate the risk of foodborne illness.

Below are some tips to properly hot hold to avoid the temperature danger zone -

  • Hot holding equipment is meant to hold already hot food at 140 degrees Fahrenheit or higher and is typically not designed to reheat or help exit the danger zone.
  • Keep products covered whenever possible to both maintain consistency and decrease contaminant exposure.
  • Stir frequently to evenly distribute heat.
  • Use the appropriate thermometer when monitoring and monitor often.
  • Dispose of foodstuffs that have been sitting below 140 degrees Fahrenheit for over 2 hours.
  • Prevent cross-contamination by never mixing freshly prepared and already prepared items

What is Cold Holding?

Cold holding dictates that potentially hazardous foods that are going to be held at cold temperatures must be held at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Cold holding method examples include cold top tables, holding food on ice, refrigerated displays, refrigerated trucks, and walk-in refrigerators or freezers.

Below are some tips to properly cold hold to avoid the temperature danger zone-

  • Make sure your cold-holding equipment is designed to keep foods at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.
  • Never place food directly on ice, to avoid bacteria to grow on the ice and cross-contamination. Exceptions to this rule include fruits, vegetables, and molluscan shellfish.
  • Keep food covered to protect from contaminants.
  • Cold food may be held unrefrigerated for up to 6 hours starting from the time it was removed from refrigeration at 40 degrees Fahrenheit and below.
  • Administer a thermometer reading every 2 hours, discarding any products that reach 70 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

Use a thermometer to check held hot or cold food at least every four hours. If products are checked every two hours, food industry professionals will have enough time to take corrective action if the danger zone has been breached.

Corrective action can be as simple as reheating or rechilling the affected foods before bacteria has time to spread. Diligent monitoring will both prevent foodborne illness and eliminate food waste.

When transporting products, use a food pan carrier or insulated catering bag to keep your product safe for consumption. It is important to be especially mindful of how opening and closing these containers and exposing the food contained within them to higher climates can put food at risk.

For example, foods in a cooler that read 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the morning could easily be well above 41 degrees Fahrenheit during a lunch rush with the cooler opening and closing frequently.

Online employee scheduling software that makes shift planning effortless.
Try it free for 14 days.

Proper Cooking, Reheating, and Cooling Techniques

The temperature danger zone is applicable to the cooking, cooling, and reheating of potentially hazardous foods. Always cool food as rapidly as possible to avoid time spent in the danger zone.

When cooling, bring food at 135 degrees Fahrenheit to 70 degrees Fahrenheit within two hours. Within an additional four hours, bring food from 70 degrees Fahrenheit to 41 degrees Fahrenheit. Within 6 hours, food must be below 41 degrees Fahrenheit.

Always heat food as rapidly as possible to avoid time spent in the temperature danger zone. Placing hot food directly into a refrigerator or freezer is never recommended.

Doing so risks other foods in your refrigerator or freezer entering the danger zone and developing bacteria. When reheating, make sure to food reaches 165 Fahrenheit within 2 hours of being placed in a hot holding unit.

Below are some tips for quick cooling and heating foods-

  • Use a commercial blast chiller to quickly cool foods to minimize time spent in the temperature danger zone.
  • Store in shallow containers to more evenly distribute heat or cold.
  • Use a cooling paddle for cooling of hot liquids ranging from soups to sauces. A cooling paddle can also be laid on top of warm casseroles to reach below the danger zone more swiftly.
  • Create an ice bath by filling a pot, container, or sink basin with ice. Place containers of hot foods in the ice bath to quickly cool to 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below.

Cooking food to the proper temperature is extremely important as cooking is the only food preparation step that will actually kill bacteria. Many raw portions of meat naturally contain pathogenic bacterias, such as salmonella on raw chicken.

While proper holding can slow down bacteria reproduction and freezing causes bacteria to go dormant, only cooking will kill bacteria present in food.

Monitor through the usage of an accurate probe thermometer positioned in the center of the food to ensure a valid reading. Once the minimum internal temperature is achieved, ensure the reading stays consistent for at least 15 seconds to ensure maximal bacteria elimination.

Provided below are some common food minimums that all foodservice professionals should be familiar with-
  • Raw poultry such as chicken, duck, and turkey-165 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Raw ground meats such as ground beef and sausage-155 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Raw pork, fish, eggs, lamb, and whole pieces of beef-145 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Fruits and vegetables prior to hot holding-135 degrees Fahrenheit

Key Takeaways

  • Maintain proper temperature to ensure food safety compliance adherence and foodborne illness prevention.
  • The United State's food supply is one of the safest in the world. However, the CDC estimates that each year roughly 48 million people, or roughly 1 in 6 Americans, get sick as a result of foodborne diseases.
  • A major food violation could bring massive financial consequences to your business via lawsuits, fines, penalties, and even permanent closure of your business.
  • Each year in the United States 128,000 people are hospitalized and 3,000 people die from foodborne illnesses.
  • Bacteria grow most rapidly in the danger zone. The temperature danger zone ranges between 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit. In this zone, bacteria doubles in number in as quickly as 20 minutes.
  • Proper storage is an essential component for reducing foodborne illness and maintaining compliance standards.
  • Hot holding dictates that potentially hazardous foods that are going to be held at high temperatures must be held at 135 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
  • Cold holding dictates that potentially hazardous foods that are going to be held at cold temperatures must be held at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.
  • When transporting products, use a food pan carrier or insulated catering bag to keep your product safe for consumption.
  • The temperature danger zone is applicable to cooking temperatures as well as the cooling of hot food and reheating of cold food.
  • While proper holding can slow down bacteria reproduction and freezing causes bacteria to go dormant, only cooking will kill bacteria present in food.