Food Safety Food Handler

How to Prevent Foodborne Illness by Properly Heating and Cooling Food

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Trust20 Contributors • 3 minute read

One of the leading causes of foodborne illness is improperly heating and cooling food. A safely prepared dish can quickly become contaminated by pathogens and bacteria if it spends too long in the Temperature Danger Zone.

But what exactly does this mean? Let’s take a closer look at how correctly heating and cooling food can help prevent foodborne illness and protect customers and staff. 

Properly Cooling Food to Prevent Foodborne Illnesses

Cooling food quickly is crucial when it comes to the prevention of unwanted pathogens and dangerous bacteria.

To safely cool food, follow the two-stage cooling process to prevent the growth of dangerous pathogens. 

Stage 1

The first stage requires that food be cooled from 135 degrees to 70 degrees in two hours or less. In this range of time, bacteria can double in as little as 20 minutes.

If the food has not been cooled to 70 degrees within two hours, it must be reheated to 165 degrees for 15 seconds and then cooled again or thrown away. 

Stage 2

The second stage requires that food be cooled from 70 degrees to 40 degrees in four hours or less. This cooling process should be completed in six hours or less to ensure the safety of the food. 

Other Factors to Consider When Cooling Food

There are a few factors to think about before beginning the cooling process. It’s important to consider how the size and density of the food, along with the shape of its container, will affect the cooling time.

There are many tactics to safely cool food to 70 degrees during the first stage of the cooling process.

Here are some tips:

  • Separating larger dishes into smaller portions is a great way to safely reduce the temperature of a dish. 

  • You can also quickly cool food by placing its container in an ice water bath and stirring the food regularly. 

  • Once the food is cooled and ready for refrigeration, loosely cover the food so it can continue to cool in the refrigerator. 

Properly Heating Food to Prevent Foodborne Illness

There’s a saying that goes, “Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.” This is an important piece of wisdom to live by! Let’s take a look at the basics.

Hot foods must be kept at an internal temperature of at least 140 degrees if it is not being served immediately. Reheating leftovers must be done within two hours of leaving the refrigerator. You can use a variety of methods to reheat food:  oven, stovetop, or microwave.

When reheating food, it is important that it’s heated to an internal temperature of 165 degrees throughout. Double-check the internal temperature after two minutes to confirm it’s still 165 degrees and safe to eat. 

The Takeaway: Keep Your Cool…But Only When You’re Supposed To!

Maintaining proper temperatures is one of the most stressful parts of working in a foodservice establishment. However, it is an integral part of protecting your customers. You’ve got to keep your cool at all times (unless, of course, we’re talking about food that’s supposed to be hot…you know what we’re getting at here!).

At the end of the day, the process of heating and cooling food must be closely monitored by every staff member, but the food manager or person-in-charge typically takes on the bulk of the responsibility.

Staff training on the best practices of heating and cooling food is a great way to keep customers safe–and this should be part of every basic training program. Stay on top of the latest food code updates to ensure you know all the latest best practices.

Everyone on staff can learn how to calibrate thermometers, how and when to check food temperatures, and why it’s important to properly heat and cool food. Safe heating and cooling techniques will make your staff confident in preventing foodborne illness, along with other food safety tactics.

Whether heating food or cooling it down, knowledge of the food safety basics can help you avoid leaving foods in the temperature danger zone and ultimately prevent foodborne illnesses.

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