Hot Holding Units | 4 mins read

What are Hot Holding Units?

what are hot holding units
Mary Kate Morrow

By Mary Kate Morrow

What are Hot Holding Units?

Hot holding units keep hot food within a temperature range that is safe for consumption. Often times in the food industry, it makes a lot more sense to prepare a large quantity of cooked food at once instead of cooking food as it is ordered.

However, not all that cooked food is likely to be served immediately and at one time but will instead be served as it is ordered. As a result, there is a surplus of remaining hot food that needs to be kept at a safe temperature until it is served.

There are many different hot holding devices for food industry professionals to choose from. These generally include slow cookers, low temperature ovens, or warmers. There are also hot holding cabinets that are specifically made for holding hot foods.

A hot holding cabinet is not realistic for all food industry professionals as it may take up too much space in your business. For large food industry operations, holding cabinets are a great investment to consider.

An example scenario where hot holding often occurs is at a buffet style restaurant. In this setting, cooked hot foods can be removed from hot holding units and displayed but only for up to 2 hours.

This 2 hour display can only occur safely one time and should not be repeated under any circumstances. It is also very important not to mix new food in with the food that was already previously on display. Doing so may contaminate the new food as well as make it impossible to determine how long any various portion of the food has been left out for.

Food that is not used within the 2 hour time frame must be reheated and then transferred back to hot holding. Alternatively, food may be cooled swiftly to below the danger zone temperature range.

Whether cold or hot holding methods are used for food, it must be kept at a safe temperature until it is consumed. Food left out for over 2 hours must universally be disposed of and never consumed in order to avoid food poisoning and other food safety risks.

Proper Times and Temperatures for Hot Holding Units

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There are a couple main options for holding cooked hot food but both are dependent on keeping foods out of the temperature danger zone. The first method is to chill the cooked food to below 40 degrees Fahrenheit while using proper cold holding protocol.

The second method is to keep the food temperature above 140 degrees Fahrenheit until it is served. Cooked hot food requires a special vigilance as it may cause food poisoning even though the food may still look, smell, and taste perfectly edible.

Hot holding cabinets help to keep food hot without the issue that other hot holding methods have. For instance, some hot holding methods leave the portion of the food that is the farthest from the heat source susceptible to getting colder. Generally after food is in hot holding for more than 2 to 4 hours, it begins to dry out and lose its freshness.

When using a hot holding unit that has a lid, make sure that the lid stays secure in order to seal in both moisture and heat. Any hot holding method that uses a flame requires that the flame is checked periodically and that it does not go out.

When using a hot holding unit that has a centralized heat source, stir the food every 10 to 15 minutes to keep the temperature as even as possible. When checking the temperature make sure that you insert the thermometer various places throughout the product to see any discrepancies between different areas of the food.

Some variation in temperature is acceptable but all of the readings from a specific food product should be between 140 degrees Farenheit and 165 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature of your food falls below 140 degrees Fahrenheit you must heat it back up before you return the food back to the hot holding unit.

If a hot food temperature falls below 135 degrees Fahrenheit for over 2 hours, it must be reheated to 165 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds. Remember, hot holding equipment is not meant for cooking or reheating food, it is only meant to keep cooked food at a certain temperature until it is served.

A calibrated thermometer should be used consistently throughout the cooking and hot holding process to check internal temperatures. Through proper temperature monitoring and hot holding methods, your hot food will stay as safe as possible for consumption.


  • Proper hot holding techniques help to keep hot food safe for consumption and out of the temperature danger zone.
  • Many different food industry businesses need hot holding units to avoid having to cook food as it is as ordered.
  • There are various different hot holding units available ranging from a hot holding cabinet to a slow cooker. However, certain hot holding units such as hot holding cabinets may not be realistic for every food industry business.
  • Understanding how long food can be left out for and how to properly reheat food that has breached the danger zone is important for all food industry professionals who participate in hot holding to understand.