food-safety | 12 mins read

The Truth Behind Food Holding Temperatures- A Guide to Keeping Your Food Safe

the truth behind food holding temperatures a guide to keeping your food safe 1651515594 4259
Debdutta Bhattacharjee

By Debdutta Bhattacharjee

What is Food Holding Temperature?

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You have cooked your food to the recommended safe internal temperature or dutifully stored cooked or raw food in the refrigerator. You have also followed the time controls required to keep food safe. What next?

It is important to hold food items at safe temperatures before they are served and consumed. Safe food-holding temperatures keep pathogens at bay.

Food has to be held at safe temperatures particularly when holding it at buffets and salad bars, or carrying it to catering events or locations off-site.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the food temperature danger zone is defined as the range of temperature falling between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, in which microorganisms that cause foodborne illnesses thrive and develop rapidly. ServSafe, the US National Restaurant Association's training and certification program, puts this danger zone between 41 and 135 F.

Within this broad danger zone, microbial activity peaks at temperatures between 70 and 125 F. The longer food resides within the temperature danger zone, the higher the probability of contamination by pathogens.

Food items can be cold-held or hot-held. Cold food must be maintained below the temperature danger zone in cold holding equipment. Hot holding, on the other hand, means keeping cooked food items hot before or during they are served. Hot food is held at temperatures above the danger zone.

Why is it Important to Maintain the Right Holding Temperature?

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One of the most important ways to prevent food poisoning is to control the temperature of food. Bacteria and other pathogens reproduce slowly at cold temperatures. The rate at which they multiply becomes frantic at mid-range temperatures, posing a major hazard to food safety. Microbes, on the other hand, cannot withstand high food temperatures.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 48 million instances of domestically acquired foodborne infections are reported in the United States each year. This implies that one in every six people in the US contracts foodborne illnesses, which cause roughly 128,000 hospitalizations and nearly 3,000 deaths annually.

About 30 pathogens like bacteria, parasites, viruses, and numerous unspecified agents are known to cause foodborne illness. Also, as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic, food safety has become all the more important.

Food lying in the temperature danger zone would see pathogens doubling every 20 minutes. Norovirus, E.coli, Clostridium perfringens, Salmonella, and Campylobacter flourish in foods that aren't cooked or reheated to a safe temperature, or aren't cooled enough before being placed in cold storage. Victims of food poisoning commonly experience severe diarrhea, stomach pain, vomiting, and fever. Young children, pregnant women, immunocompromised individuals, and aged people are especially vulnerable.

Certain foods are more susceptible than others to attack by microbes, and these food items demand more stringent time and temperature control. Such foods include meat, poultry products, fish, milk and dairy products, eggs, vegetables, baked potatoes, cooked rice, melons, oil mixtures, untreated garlic, soy protein, tofu, leafy greens, sprout seeds and sprouts, and plant-based meat replacements. These food items, in particular, should be held at safe temperatures.

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Cold Food Holding Temperature Range + Tips

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Cold holding of food should be done at 40 F or below. With the help of an appliance thermometer, you can make sure that the temperature in the refrigerator stays at 40 F or lower, and that the freezer temperature stays at 0 degrees F or lower.

Food items that have been removed from the refrigerator must be consumed within six hours. It is generally advisable to monitor the temperature of hot- and cold-held food every four hours. However, it would be even better if the food was checked every two hours. This would give you ample opportunity to take corrective action if the food entered the temperature danger zone.

You may prevent the spread of hazardous germs and cut food wastage by simply re-chilling the affected items. If the temperature has climbed to 70 F or more, however, it would be advisable to discard cold food items.

Temperatures in refrigerators and salad bars must be kept below 40 F to prevent the formation of harmful bacteria. This is especially crucial if you're storing foods that are sensitive to time and temperature control safety (TCS) like cheese, yogurt, meats, salad dressings, or egg products.

Restaurant employees need to regularly check refrigerator and freezer temperatures. The most precise and cost-effective tool for doing so is an appliance thermometer.

Appliance thermometers are designed to measure the air temperature within the freezer, refrigerator, and oven. The thermometer needs to be placed in a glass of water in the refrigerator's center. If the temperature in the refrigerator isn't between 38 and 40 F, the temperature control has to be modified.

On the other hand, for checking the temperature of the freezer, the thermometer must be put between frozen food packages. If the temperature doesn't fall between 0 and 2 F, the freezer's temperature control must be modified.

Check to ensure that the refrigerator's contents are properly covered and arranged. Food should be stored in containers that are made of plastic and have tight-fitting lids. This helps to keep the refrigerator dry and prevents odors from spreading. Food products that are well-arranged in the fridge can be taken out faster. This reduces the period of time that you have to keep the refrigerator door open.

Hot Food Holding Temperature Range + Tips

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Hot holding of food should be done at 140 F and higher if the USDA-recommended upper limit of the food Temperature Danger zone is taken into account, but to be on the safe side, let's use 135 F as the upper limit, as required by ServSafe.

A food thermometer should always be used to check the food's internal temperature. To serve or keep food warm, utilize warming trays, chafing dishes, and slow cookers. Since some warmers can only hold food at 110-120 F, it's important to ensure that the warmer is able to hold foods at 135 F or higher.

To reheat food, hot holding equipment should never be used. Prior to storing, foods should be cooked to safe temperatures. Hot holding equipment maintains present temperatures rather than bringing the temperature of the food to the required level.

Before serving, reheat hot foods in the oven at temperatures of 200-250 F. Eggs and egg-based dishes such as souffles and quiches should be properly cooked to 165 F before serving.

Keep food covered as much as possible to help control temperatures and keep pollutants out, so that consumers can be assured of their Health Safety. Stir the food regularly to evenly spread the heat. Thermometers must be used to check food temperatures often.

In order to ensure that cross-contamination doesn't take place, never mix freshly cooked food with food that is held to be served. Food sitting below 135 F for more than four hours isn't safe for consumption.

How to Check the Temperature of Your Food

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Thermometers assist you in cooking meals to a safe temperature, avoid overcooking and obtain the finest flavor. They also enable you to hold and store food properly. If you are using a large oven-proof dial thermometer, place it in the thickest part of the whole poultry or roast at the start of cooking and leave it there during cooking. Be careful to avoid bone or fat while inserting the thermometer. As the dish cooks, keep an eye on the readings.

In the case of a dial thermometer, the stem needs to be inserted at least two inches into the thickest portion of the meat. When handling food items like hamburgers and chicken breasts, which don't provide the requisite thickness, insert thermometers sideways.

As far as digital thermometers are concerned, the stem has to be inserted at least half an inch into the thickest portion of the meat without hitting bone or fat. Digital thermometers work best for measuring the Cooking Temperatures of hamburgers, chicken breasts, pork chops, and so on.

A Bluetooth smoker thermometer, on the other hand, is built to assist in smoking or grilling. After the meat has been marinated and the spices added, a Bluetooth thermometer should be placed in the deepest area of the meat. This region is normally in the center of roasts or steaks, while for poultry, the inner thigh is the deepest part where thermometer can be inserted.

BBQ probes should be inserted directly into the meat's center. It is possible to attach a dual probe to the grate directly. It's also important to make sure that the BBQ probe is well placed through the clip so that it continues to give accurate readings.

Some Bluetooth apps allow the user to choose a meat type from a list of preset options. They also let the user choose the cooking temperature range. It's critical for the person in charge of the smoking or grilling to know the internal temperature of the food and the oven's ambient temperature at a glance.

The expected time for the food to be ready is displayed on a smartphone app. The meat probe then takes control.

Smartphone apps connected to the Bluetooth thermometers notify the user when the food is done. Some Bluetooth thermometer makers offer extensive visual tools like graphs and charts so that the person doing the grilling can cook to the best of his/her ability.

WiFi meat thermometers connect directly to the internet. Bluetooth meat thermometers, however, don't need an internet connection.

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Top 3 Food Thermometers

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1. Blue2-
The Cooper-Atkins Blue2 temperature monitor dispenses with the need for manual temperature monitoring by remotely sending temperature readings to a Bluetooth-enabled smart device.

Any Type-K thermocouple temperature probe can be used with the Blue2, making it ideal for insertion, and air and surface temperature measurements. It is possible to incorporate this information into third-party programs.

The Blue2 equipment was made to improve procedures such as compliance with food safety standards and checklist automation. This food temperature monitor can be easily linked to the Zip HACCP app to ensure that food is fully cooked and that no disease-causing germs are present. The Zip HACCP software solution can be downloaded from the Hubworks app store for restaurants.

The Blue2 Bluetooth temperature monitor comes with an RF range of 100 feet in line of sight, a system accuracy of 1.5 F, and a temperature range of -40 to 999 F.

2. ThermoPro TP-
These Bluetooth thermometers can simultaneously measure the internal temperature of several cuts of meat. The ThermoPro TP920 and TP25 are Bluetooth 5.0-enabled thermometers with a 500-feet range.

They help to precisely calculate the amount of time it will take for the food to reach the desired temperature. Temperature pre-alarms can be programmed to receive messages when the Food Temperature deviates by 5/10/15 F from the desired temperature.

ThermoPro TP's temperature range of 15.8 to 572 F and accuracy of 1.8 F will make sure any type of meat will be correctly cooked.

The ThermoPro app monitors temperatures in real time and presents them as graphs. It also estimates the amount of time needed for the cooking to finish.

ThermoPro thermometers include preset temperatures for nine different types of meat that have been authorized by the USDA. They also support varying levels of doneness.

3. Meater Plus-
This thermometer comes with a simple application that lets you cook semi-automatically. It also saves data from prior cookouts to help you improve your culinary skills. Meater Plus comes with a single probe.

It does, however, have a wide temperature range, measuring ambient temperatures up to 527 F and internal temperatures up to 212 F. This Bluetooth thermometer has a wireless range of 165 feet. It has presets for different types of meat and alarms that sound when the meat is ready to be taken off the grill.

The easiest way to link the Meater probe to a smart device is via Bluetooth. The Meater Link uses WiFi to send data and has a greater range than Bluetooth.

5 Important Food Safety Procedures

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1. Meals must be prepared with fresh ingredients to ensure Food Safety . Hands, kitchen equipment, and counters should be washed often. Before and after touching food, hands should be washed for at least 20 seconds in warm, soapy water and other personal hygiene precautions should be followed. Food preparation equipment and kitchen surfaces like cutlery, plates, knives, cutting boards, countertops, and so on must be cleaned with hot and soapy water too.

Vegetables and fruits must be rinsed before consumption. Meat, fish, poultry, and eggs, on the other hand, should not be washed. During the washing procedure, water splashing out of the sink could result in bacteria spreading. Clean the lids of canned items before opening them.

2. It's best to keep raw and cooked foods separate. Germs can spread from one food to the next. Separate raw meat, fish, eggs, and poultry from other food items. A marinade already used on raw food items should be brought to a boil before being reused. A cutting board or dish should be set aside for raw foods.

3. Cook food to a safe minimum internal temperature to solve the problem of food borne illness. Some of the safe internal temperatures for food products are-

  • Poultry products and leftovers 165 F
  • Egg dishes and ground beef 160 F
  • Fin fish, beef, veal, pork, uncooked ham, and lamb 145 F.

4. Food should be placed in the refrigerator as quickly as possible. Time and temperature requirements for cold foods must be strictly followed to ensure that they are safe for use.

Maintaining proper food holding temperatures helps to address the problem of Food Waste. This is indeed a big issue in the US, with around 80 billion pounds of food being wasted in the country every year, amounting to 30-40% of the total food supply of the country.

5. Frozen food should never be thawed at room temperature. Food is most safely thawed in the refrigerator. It should be kept refrigerated at or below 40-41 F to keep microbes at bay. Food can also be thawed in the microwave, in cold water, or during the cooking process. Food that has been thawed in cold water or the microwave needs to be cooked as soon as possible.

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