What Is The Danger Zone For Food | 6 mins read

What is the Danger Zone?

what is the danger zone
Dakota Sheetz

By Dakota Sheetz

Introduction to the "Danger Zone"

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To mitigate foodborne illness and food safety violations, food industry professionals must know the answer to a vital question- What is the Danger Zone for Food?

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. Of these infected people, 128,000 people are hospitalized and 3,000 people will die.

These illnesses and deaths are especially tragic because they are largely the fault of preventable food safety mistakes. A major food safety violation could bring massive financial consequences to your business via lawsuits, fines, penalties, and even permanent closure of your business.

If food industry professionals avoided the temperature danger zone many major violations and foodborne diseases could be prevented.

What is the Danger Zone?

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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 food poisoning.

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.

Decreasing food poisoning is an effective way to protect customers from foodborne illnesses. Bacteria growth most rapidly occurs in the danger zone, which 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 storing food, this 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 danger zone for food 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, perishable foods should never be left out for over two hours. Additionally, food should not be in the zone for more than an hour if operating in an environment that is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, as warmer environments encourage rapid bacteria growth.

It is important to note that over the years the definition of the temperature danger zone has been revised and hotly contested by food industry professionals.

As different bacterias grow differently in the same environment, there is criticism surrounding the acceptance and implication of a standard range that is considered hazardous. For instance, temperatures that are considered safe may actually become hazardous if the food was held for a long duration of time.

Critics warn against the over-interpretation of the hazardous temperature range, wary of the common misconception that these codes adequately cover all foods under all processing operations.

Critics understand the need for simplification but also urge food industry professionals to do their own research about their specific food safety products and processes.

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What is the 2 Hour/4 Hour Rule?

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The 2 Hour/4 Hour rule states how long perishable foods can be safely held at food temperatures in the hazardous range. This total time includes all the time the food spent at room temperature during the delivery, preparation, and transportation processes.

Proper temperatures are essential for hot and cold holding of potentially hazardous foods. Food industry professionals should dispose of foodstuffs held below 140 degrees Fahrenheit for outside of the zone for over 2 hours.

The danger zone temperatures are also applicable to the cooking, quick cooling, and reheating of perishable foods. When reheating or cooling foods, do so as quickly as possible to reduce the time spent in the hazardous range.

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 danger zone for food
  • 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.

Maintaining Proper Temperatures

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The easiest way to keep food out of the temperature danger zone is by regular and frequent temperature monitoring. When cooking, use an accurate probe thermometer positioned in the center of the food to ensure a valid reading.

Once the ideal thermometer reading is achieved, ensure the reading stays consistent for at least 15 seconds to ensure maximal bacteria elimination.

ProductMinimum Internal Temperature & Rest Time
Beef, Pork, Veal & Lamb
Steaks, chops, roasts
145 F (62.8 C) and allow to rest for at least 3 minutes
Ground meats160 F (71.1 C)
Ham, fresh or smoked (uncooked)145 F (62.8 C) and allow to rest for at least 3 minutes
Fully Cooked Ham
(to reheat)
Reheat cooked hams packaged in USDA-inspected plants to 140 F (60 C) and all others to 165 F (73.9 C).
ProductMinimum Internal Temperature
All Poultry (breasts, whole bird, legs, thighs, wings, ground poultry, giblets, and stuffing)165 F (73.9 C)
Eggs160 F (71.1 C)
Fish & Shellfish145 F (62.8 C)
Leftovers165 F (73.9 C)
Casseroles165 F (73.9 C)
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 temperature danger zone has been breached.

Corrective action can be as simple as reheating or rechilling the affected foods before bacteria growth occurs. Diligent monitoring will both prevent food poisoning and limit any food waste.

Below are some thermometer tips to avoid the zone-
  • Monitor your refrigerator 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 and the exact time observed.
  • Clean and calibrate thermometers regularly.
  • Frequently test employee understanding of proper thermometer handling and usage.

Key Takeaways

  • 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. Of these infected people, 128,000 people are hospitalized and 3,000 people will die.
  • Bacteria growth occurs most rapidly in the danger zone, which ranges between 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit. In this zone, bacteria growth doubles in number in as quickly as 20 minutes. Regardless if you are cooking, preparing, or holding food, this 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 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.
  • The easiest way to keep food out of the temperature danger zone is by regular and frequent monitoring.
  • 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 hazardous range has been breached.

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

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