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Eat Safe Louisiana Food Safety Solution of the Month

When Louisiana's health inspectors visit restaurants they check for important food safety practices that protect customers. By following these same safety practices in your own kitchen you can protect yourself and your family from harmful illnesses. Each month, this series will share a different food safety tip that can help you prevent food-related sickness in your own home. Often, people confuse symptoms of food-related sickness with other illnesses such as a virus or upset stomach. These solutions can help reduce unnecessary illnesses.

Slow Cooker
Keep Hands Washed
Keep Food Covered
Keep Raw Foods Separated

January - Slow Cookers and Food Safety

From Suzanne Driessen and Glenyce Peterson-Vangsness, University of Minnesota Extension Educators 2013

Slow cookers or crock pots are a popular time saver for many families. With the help of a crock pot, a meal can be prepared in the morning and be ready-to-eat after a busy day at work. They are great for tenderizing less expensive cuts of meat and for cooking without the hassle. There are many tips that you can follow to ensuring that the food that you are preparing is safe for your family, even with a crock pot.

Is a slow cooker a safe way to cook food?

Yes, if you use them correctly. The slow cooker cooks foods slowly at a low temperature, generally between 170° and 280° F, over several hours. The combination of direct heat from the pot, lengthy cooking and steam, destroy bacteria making the slow cooker a safe process for cooking foods.

How much liquid do I add?

Water or liquid is necessary to create steam. When cooking meat or poultry, the water or liquid level should cover the ingredients to ensure effective heat transfer throughout the crock. Some manufacturers of slow cookers recommend adding liquid to fill the stoneware 1/2 to 3/4 full.   Follow the manufacturer's recipes and directions for best results.

Slow Cooker Food Safety Reminders:

  • Start with clean hands, utensils surfaces and a clean cooker.
  • Always thaw meat or poultry before putting it into a slow cooker. If frozen pieces are used, they will not reach 140° quick enough and could possibly result in a foodborne illness.
  • Preheat the cooker and add hot liquids, if possible. Preheating the crock before adding ingredients or cooking on the highest setting for the first hour will ensure a rapid heat start. Either will shorten the time foods are in the temperature danger zone. This is highly recommended when cooking meat or poultry in a slow cooker.
  • Do not use the warm setting to cook food. It is designed to keep cooked food hot.
  • Do not reheat food or leftovers in a slow cooker; instead reheat on stove top or microwave and transfer to slow cooker to keep warm (140°F. or above)
  • Dried beans, especially kidney, contain a natural toxin. These toxins are easily destroyed by boiling. Safe steps for preparing would include soaking the beans for 12 hours, rinsing, and then boiling for at least 10 minutes, before adding the beans to a slow cooker.
  • Research conducted by USDA FSIS indicates it is safe to cook large cuts of meat and poultry in a slow cooker. Follow the manufacturer's recipes and safety guidelines.
  • Since vegetables cook the slowest, place them near the heat, at the bottom and sides of the slow cooker.
  • Do not lift the lid or cover unnecessarily during the cooking cycle. Each time the lid is raised, the internal temperature drops 10 - 15 degrees and the cooking process is slowed by 30 minutes.
  • Before taking a bite, check meat and poultry with a food thermometer to make sure it has reached a safe internal temperate to destroy bacteria. Roasts: 145°F to 160°F; poultry: 165°F; soups, stews, sauces: 165°F
  • Do not leave cooked food to cool down in the crock. Eat immediately or place leftovers in shallow containers and refrigerate. 

Sources

Slow Cookers and Food Safety - United States Department of Agriculture
Ask Karen - United States Department of Agriculture