Cold Holding Units | 4 mins read

What are Cold Holding Units?

what are cold holding units
Mary Kate Morrow

By Mary Kate Morrow

What are Cold Holding Units?

Cold holding units are used to keep food cold and avoid unnecessary time spent in the temperature danger zone, this helps to keep food safe in accordance with food safety protocol. Cold food must be kept and held below the temperature danger zone in order to stay as safe as possible for human consumption.

Food safety inspections will quickly show any issues that your cold holding units may have. However, waiting until a health inspector notices your food is being held improperly in the danger zone can result in restaurant shutdowns and costly fines.

Not only can a food safety violation cost your business a lot of money in fines and corrective actions, but it can damage your business's reputation forever. Customers are wary of contracting food poisoning and therefore will avoid your restaurant if they are unsure that you keep your food safe during the preparation and serving process.

Instead, be proactive about making sure your cold holding devices are running correctly. Various ways to make sure that your cold food is actually being kept at the proper temperature can range from automated monitoring systems to adding in additional temperature sensors to your existing equipment.

Even if you fully automate the way that you hold your hot food and cold food at your business, it is still important to consistently double-check temperatures manually. If there is an error in your automated system that you do not find during a manual temperature check, your automated system could create a food safety nightmare for your customers.

Proper Times and Temperatures for Cold Holding Units

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The temperature danger zone ranges from 42 degrees Fahrenheit to 134 degrees Fahrenheit. In this zone food is much more susceptible to bacterial overgrowth that can result in food poisoning cases when food is eventually consumed.

Proper cold holding ensures that food avoids unnecessary time spent in the danger zone. During cold holding food temperature must be checked with a thermometer at least every 4 hours. There are also additional concerns and protocols to follow when hot cooked food needs to be cooled and held for a certain amount of time.

In order for hot food to reach the temperature where it can be put into a cold holding unit, specific time frames should be met. The general rule of thumb is that hot food must be cooled gradually but that the entire process should occur within six hours.

First, hot food needs to be cooled from 135 degrees Fahrenheit to 70 degrees Fahrenheit within a two hour time frame. Once food has reached 70 degrees Fahrenheit it must be cooled to 41 degrees Fahrenheit within the following four hours.

There are also guidelines for how to correctly check temperatures based on which type of food you are monitoring including-
1. Meat products- Insert the thermometer into the thickest portion of the meat.
2. Solid foods- Insert the thermometer into various areas of the food.
3. Liquid foods- Insert the thermometer in the middle of the food while stirring.

Any food that is held in cold holding that will be reused at a future date must not spend unnecessary time in the food temperature danger zone. Once too much time has been spent in the danger zone food cannot be reheated in order to kill accumulated bacteria.

Food safety guidelines clearly state that any food that has spent too long in the danger zone must be disposed of immediately. To avoid wasting resources and keep food safe always keep food in its proper temperature range.

Even with proper hot holding and cold holding techniques, it is still important to pay attention to best by dates. Once you have prepared food, clearly label on the packaging both the time and date that the food was originally prepared.

A general rule is that if food is not reused within 7 days it should be thrown away, regardless of what type of food it is. However, each food type has specific dates of consumption ranges to keep food safe and decrease the chance of food poisoning for consumers.


  • As a business owner or food industry professional, keeping food safe for your consumers should always be at the forefront of your mind. Safe food is a hallmark of any great food industry business.
  • Cold holding units help keep food safe and require consistent monitoring of food temperature at least every four hours.
  • There is a specific protocol for cooling down hot food but a general rule of thumb is to make sure the process occurs within 6 hours.
  • A food safety violation can be costly to both your business's profits and reputation. Thankfully there is a range of solutions, from automated temperature monitoring to manual double-checking of temperature.
  • Make sure that all food industry staff members are familiar with the temperature danger zone and are well trained in food safety protocol.