Food must be maintained at a safe temperature to protect your customers from foodborne illness as well as maintain a good health rating. It’s the responsibility of your establishment, if you prepare and serve food, to both prepare and maintain food within a safe temperature range. We will talk about how long your food can be outside of this range, and the proper holding temperatures for hot and cold food.
What Is a Safe Temperature Range for Food?
An unsafe temperature range for your food are temperatures between 41 and 135 degrees Fahrenheit. The most rapid growth of foodborne occurs between 70 and 125 degrees Fahrenheit. The longer food sits in this temperature range, the greater the risk that bacteria will grow on your food. Food spoils and becomes dangerous for consumption when bacteria reach unsafe levels. It is one of your greatest, if not the greatest, responsibilities as a food service professional to stop bacteria growth by ensuring food is quickly chilled or heated to food safe temperatures.
How Long Can Food Stay Outside of the Safe Range?
It is recommended that foods enter their proper temperature ranges within 2 hours. These safe ranges are below:
- Cold Foods - 40 degrees Fahrenheit and below.
- Hot foods - 140 degrees Fahrenheit and above.
So to recap: Any food between 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit for too long has a chance of spoiling. It's imperative that both your equipment and food handling procedures take this into account.
Something else to consider, many kitchens are above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and stay at this temperature during operating hours. Your food shouldn't be within this temperature for longer than an hour. The warmer temperature can help bacteria grow faster, making it more important for you to heat or chill it to safe temperatures even more quickly.
How to Keep Food Within a Safe Temperature Range
The most sure way to keep food within a safe temperature range is to take and monitor temperatures regularly. This is extremely important while cooking food that needs to be brought to specific temperatures and/or served this way for safety, but it is also extremely important when holding food on your buffet line or salad bar.
- Keep a record of both the temperature that your food/appliance measures and the time it was taken.
- Consistently keep your refrigerator or freezer temperatures monitored. A second refrigerator or freezer thermometer is a good idea as built-in appliance thermometers may not be accurate or stay accurate as long.
- Educate and regularly test employee’s knowledge of safe food temperature and food handling.
- Clean and calibrate any thermometers and temperature monitoring equipment often.
Proper Cold Temp: Refrigerators / Salad Bars / Cold Buffets
Refrigerators, salad bars and cold buffets need to stay and maintain temperatures below 41 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent the growth of illness-causing bacteria. This is especially important as you house foods that are easily susceptible to these bacteria.
How Often to Check: Frequency to Check the Temperature of Hot or Cold Food
The recommended allotment is to check the temperature of both your hot or cold holding food every four hours. Checking every 2 hours instead, however, will allow you enough time to take action in the event that food has fallen outside of safe ranges. By correctly monitoring your food's temperatures you can successfully prevent the spread of dangerous bacteria and eliminate food waste by simply re-heating or re-chilling the affected foods before dangerous bacteria has time to spread.