As the weather turns colder, you may be reaching for your slow cooker to make a batch of your special chili, pork carnitas, or other cold weather favorite. However, before turning the cooker on, be sure to check out some food safety essentials:
- Make sure meat is completely thawed prior to placing it in the slow cooker, the US Department of Agriculture advises.
- Do not put frozen meat in the slow cooker. Why? Frozen meat will tend to cook unevenly and not fast enough to guarantee that the meat’s temperature rises in the required amount of time to reach the safe temperature zone (above 140 degrees Fahrenheit). When meat spends too much time in the temperature range from 40 degrees to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, bacteria can grow quickly to dangerous levels that can cause illness.
- When possible, the USDA recommends, turn the slow cooker to its highest temperature setting for the first hour of cooking. After an hour, turn down the setting to low or whatever setting is recommended in your recipe.
- Refrigerate any leftovers within two hours after cooking. Store the food in shallow closed containers.
- Do not reheat food in the slow cooker. Potentially harmful bacteria could develop during the cooker’s slow reheating process. Instead, reheat the food in the oven, on the stovetop or in the microwave until its internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
For more food safety information, check out the USDA’s “Slow Cookers and Food Safety” fact sheet.