food-safety | 13 mins read

Cold Food Temperatures- How to Make Sure Your Food is Stored Safely

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Debdutta Bhattacharjee

By Debdutta Bhattacharjee

Food Temperature & Food Safety- What's the Connection?

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Controlling the temperature of food is one of the most essential aspects of preventing foodborne illness. When temperatures are low, bacteria and other pathogens multiply slowly. At mid-range temperatures, the pace at which they reproduce becomes frenetic, posing a serious threat to food safety. Microbes, however, are unable to resist high food temperatures.

Every year, nearly 48 million cases of domestically-acquired foodborne diseases are recorded in the United States, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This means out of every six people in the US, one falls prey to foodborne diseases every year. Foodborne infections also result in around 128,000 hospitalizations and over 3,000 fatalities every year.

About 30 known pathogens like bacteria, parasites, viruses, and a number of unspecified agents contribute to this huge caseload of foodborne illness in the US. Food safety has tended to become even more crucial as a result of Covid-19.

Food sitting at a temperature range between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit is a breeding ground for pathogens. This is essentially the food temperature danger zone, in which pathogens tend to double every 20 minutes, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). According to ServSafe, the U.S. National Restaurant Association's training and certification program, the food temperature danger zone falls between 41 degrees Fahrenheit and 135 degrees Fahrenheit.

Disease-causing germs such as E.coli, Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, Campylobacter, and Norovirus thrive in foods that aren't stored at safe temperatures, aren't cooked/reheated to the proper safe temperature, and aren't refrigerated enough before being placed in cold storage. Fever, stomach pains, severe diarrhea, and vomiting are common symptoms among the victims of food poisoning. It is particularly dangerous for pregnant women, young children, immunocompromised people, and the elderly.

Certain foods are more vulnerable to microbial attack than others, necessitating more strict time and temperature controls. Milk and dairy products, fish, poultry, meat and eggs, cooked rice, vegetables, baked potatoes, melons, garlic, and untreated oil combinations, leafy greens, sprouts and sprout seeds, and plant-based meat substitutes are examples of such foods. Food storage should be done at safe temperatures.

What is the Temperature Danger Zone?

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As mentioned above, the temperature range between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, in which pathogens that cause foodborne ailments thrive and grow rapidly, is referred to as the food temperature danger zone.

Within this temperature range, the zone between 70 and 125 degrees Fahrenheit is particularly hazardous since this is where microbial growth is most rapid. Food is more likely to get contaminated by bacteria and other pathogens the longer it is kept in the temperature danger zone.

Perishable food must be held at proper cold temperatures or heated to high temperatures to prevent bacterial growth. When preparing chicken, egg products, and pork it is especially important to make use of a food thermometer because undercooking might leave bacteria in the meal, resulting in food poisoning.

An appliance thermometer ensures that the refrigerator temperature is consistently maintained at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, and the freezer temperature is consistently kept at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. A food serving temperature chart is also useful to ensure that safe internal temperatures are maintained.

Food that has been contaminated may not appear so. It may taste, and smell very normal, tricking diners into believing that the food they are eating is safe. This explains why maintaining a safe temperature is so very crucial for food safety.

One should, therefore, be mindful of hot and cold holding temperatures. Keep hot food at a temperature of 135 degrees Fahrenheit or above, while cold hold food at a temperature of 41 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.

Platters containing cold food should be kept on ice if the meal has to be left unused for more than two hours. Food that has been lying at room temperature for over two hours must be discarded. If food is handled in an environment where the temperature exceeds 90 degrees Fahrenheit, the duration for safe holding of food would be reduced to one hour. Keep leftovers refrigerated as soon as possible, but no later than two hours.

According to ServSafe, the maximum amount of time ready-to-eat meals can be left in the temperature risk zone is four hours. Food products can be reheated, consumed, or refrigerated within this four-hour period. Check the temperature of the food products every two hours, allowing appropriate remedial action to be taken for preventing food decay.

Temperatures above 140 degrees Fahrenheit would normally eliminate pathogens. Foods must be stowed in refrigerators or freezers at suitable cold temperatures, and they must be completely cooked.

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Safe Holding Temperature for Meats

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Owing to its high moisture and protein content, meat is very perishable. Fresh slices of meat typically contain spoilage bacteria on their surfaces. These pathogens would develop, form slime, and cause spoilage when the meat sits for three days in the refrigerator in an oxygen-permeable packaging film.

Ground meat products are more prone to decay due to the nature of the manufacturing process and the bigger surface area that the product has. Bacteria in ground meats are distributed throughout the food product and grow rapidly in the presence of oxygen. Ground meats must be kept on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator and consumed within 24 hours of their purchase.

Although refrigeration reduces bacterial growth, the food product would eventually deteriorate. What should the ideal Meat Temperature be that would keep meats safe for consumption? Refrigerated meats, including ground beef, should be stored at atemperature range of 33 F to 36 F, according to Virginia Cooperative Extension, which is an educational outreach program run as a partnership between Virginia State University, Virginia Tech, the USDA, and local governments.

Bacterial growth is slowed down by freezing. Ground beef may be kept in the freezer for three to four months, while whole slices of meat can be kept for four to twelve months. Wrap meats in gas-impermeable and moisture-proof packaging for maximum storage. This way freezer burns can be avoided too.

Cured meat, such as bacon, must be kept refrigerated in its original container. When exposed to air, cured meats tend to go rancid. Therefore, after opening the package, rewrap cured meats. Cured meats have a shelf life of about one week.

The shelf life of meats and meat products is extended through vacuum packaging (involving the absence of air) and modified atmospheric packaging (involving partial removal of air). Vacuum-packed meats have a shelf life of 14 days, while gas-flushed meats have a shelf life of seven to twelve days.

Safe Holding Temperature for Poultry and Fish

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Like meats, poultry and fish are highly perishable because of the presence of high quantities of moisture and protein. Poultry products should be cooked within 24 hours of being bought or should be stowed in the freezer. Poultry can be kept frozen for up to 12 months at 0 F, the Virginia Cooperative Extension article says.

When you want to use it, poultry can be thawed in the refrigerator, in the microwave oven, or under cold running water. The minimum internal temperature for poultry parts (roast and breast) should be kept at 170 F, and that for whole poultry should be kept at 180 F.

Refrigerated leftovers must be reheated to 165 F before being consumed. Leftover poultry should be used within three days. Poultry broth and gravy should be refrigerated for no more than two days. They should be reheated and brought to a full boil at 212 F before consumption.

Refrigerated fresh fish, crab, and shrimp stored at a temperature of a little above 32 F should be used within one to two days. Fresh fish should never be stored in water since it will drain nutrition, flavor, and colors. Frozen seafood (excluding shrimp) and fresh lean fish can be kept at 0 F for three to six months. Shrimp can be held in a frozen form at 0 F for 12 months.

Safe Holding Temperature for Vegetables

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The shelf life of fresh vegetables can be extended by removing air from the container, storing it in the refrigerator at 40 F, and ensuring optimum humidity of 95 to 100%, according to Virginia Cooperative Extension. Fresh vegetables can be kept in the refrigerator for up to five days. To retain the moisture of fresh green vegetables and to prevent wilting, wrap or cover the leafy vegetables in moisture-proof bags.

As far as storing root vegetables like potatoes, onions, sweet potatoes, etc, and other vegetables like eggplants, squashes, and rutabagas are concerned, the normal food temperature danger zone stands modified. These vegetables should be stored at a temperature between 50 F and 60 F in a cool, well-ventilated environment. Tomatoes tend to continue ripening after they are harvested and must be stored at room temperature.

Remove the tops of radishes, carrots, and beets before storing them in the refrigerator for decreasing moisture loss and improving shelf life. Corn's palatability decreases with cold storage owing to increased starch content. Peas and corn should be kept in a ventilated container. Use cold running water to clean lettuce. The water should be drained, the lettuce should be kept in plastic bags and then refrigerated. Fresh vegetables should be stored properly to maintain their quality and nutritional worth.

Though normally the food temperature Danger Zone ranges from 40-140 F or 41-135 F, canned vegetables can be kept for up to a year in a dry and cool place below 85 F. Temperatures more than 100 F harms canned food. The optimum temperature range in this regard is 50 F to 70 F. Canned vegetables can be consumed after one year. However, the nutritional value and overall quality may deteriorate. Swollen, dented, and/or rusty cans should be discarded.

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5 Tips to Maintain Accurate Holding Temperatures

1. A food service business would do well to visit the Hubworks app store and access the Zip Temperature software solution, which would simplify food safety compliance. Zip Temperature is one of the best software solutions in its category, and continuously monitors the temperature of the restaurant's equipment and alerts users when a temperature violation occurs, allowing them to quickly take corrective actions.

This software solution comes with a free mobile app that shows users in real-time the state of the storage facilities wherever the users may be. Zip Temperature includes a Chitchat feature, which allows business owners to contact their management staff from any device, ensuring that concerns are addressed even when the entrepreneurs are not at the business site.

2. Check the temperature of the refrigerator and freezer on a regular basis. Appliance thermometers are the most accurate and cost-effective tool to monitor these temperatures.

Appliance thermometers are made specifically to gauge the temperature of the air in the freezer or refrigerator, as well as the oven. The thermometer should be put in a glass of water and placed in the center of the refrigerator. The refrigerator temperature control needs to be adjusted if the temperature is not between 38 and 40 F.

To check the freezer temperature, on the other hand, the thermometer needs to be placed between frozen food packages. The temperature control of the freezer has to be adjusted if the temperature is not between 0 and 2 F.

3. Keep Food in shallow stainless steel pans at a maximum depth of two inches for optimal cooling. Large chunks of meat should be cut into smaller portions and layered no deeper than two inches. If you are using a walk-in cooler, place pans on the cooler's higher wire shelves, where airflow will pass over the pans. For the quickest cooling, pans should be left open unless the food touches 41 F. During storage, all food items must be kept covered.

4. Make sure the contents of the refrigerator are covered and properly arranged. Look to store food and other items in plastic containers with tightly fitting lids. This reduces the amount of moisture in the refrigerator and stops odors from spreading across the compartment. Arranging food items in the fridge properly would allow you to store and remove them more quickly, reducing the amount of time you have to keep the door open.

5. If you have brought foods that need to be refrigerated home, they should be placed in the refrigerator as soon as you reach home. When leaving food products requiring refrigeration at room temperature, use the 'two-hour rule'. This means that you must allow no more than two hours for meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, or other food items to sit at room temperature.

If the air temperature goes above 90 F, these sensitive items can't be left at room temperature beyond an hour. This rule also applies to leftovers and take-out meals. Also, don't overcrowd the freezer or refrigerator to the point where air can't circulate.

Food Temperature FAQs

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1. What is the way to thaw frozen food efficiently?

Refrigeration is the safest method for this. Food would be kept in the refrigerator at or under 41 F to keep microorganisms at bay. Two more safe options are to thaw frozen food items in cold water or to thaw them by placing them in a microwave oven. Food that has been thawed in a microwave oven or thawed in cold water should be prepared as soon as possible. It is not recommended that you thaw food at room temperature. Even if the food's core is firm, the food's exterior can readily reach the Food Temperature danger zone.

2. Should you use antibacterial soap instead of ordinary soap? Should food workers use hand sanitizers in lieu of soap?

Antibacterial soap should not be used as a replacement for regular soap. Antibacterial soaps, according to some scientists, may actually worsen the issue of antimicrobial resistance. Food handlers should wash their hands in the proper way rather than using a certain type of soap. Hand sanitizers can aid in the removal of microorganisms from the hands. These products, however, haven't been proven to be useful against viral or protozoan infections and should not be treated as a substitute for soap.

3. Would it be possible to reheat a food item more than once?

The Food Standards Agency opines that meals must be reheated not more than once. However, if the proper procedures and standards are followed, food can be reheated several times.

4. What are the key differences between the two main types of appliance thermometers?

Liquid-filled thermometers, often known as 'liquid in glass' or 'spirit-filled' thermometers, are the most common thermometers found in domestic kitchens. The colored liquid (typically an alcohol solution) that the thermometer contains expands and moves up as the temperature escalates, indicating the temperature on a scale.

Bimetallic-coil thermometers have a coil formed of two different metals that expand at different rates. The bimetal element is coiled with one end fixed and the other end attached to a pointer stem. The coiled bimetal element will rotate the pointer as the temperature rises to show the temperature.

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