food safety temperature danger zone | 15 mins read

What You Need to Know About the Food Safety Temperature Danger Zone

what you need to know about the food safety temperature danger zone 1650386454 2389
Debdutta Bhattacharjee

By Debdutta Bhattacharjee

What is the Food Safety Temperature Danger Zone?

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One of the most critical parts of limiting disease-causing microorganisms in food is managing food temperature. Harmful bacteria and other disease-causing pathogens reproduce slowly when temperatures are low. The rate at which they multiply increases dramatically at mid-range temperatures, raising food safety risks. Microorganisms, on the other hand, are incapable of withstanding high cooking temperatures.

To avoid bacterial growth, perishable goods must be maintained at the appropriate cold temperatures or cooked to a high temperature in order to eliminate harmful microorganisms. It is especially important to use a food thermometer while cooking chicken, pork, and egg products since undercooking can mean germs remain in the food and cause food poisoning.

An appliance thermometer makes sure that the refrigerator temperature is kept at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, and the freezer is kept at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below, on a consistent basis.

Food handlers must always keep an eye on the temperature danger zone in this regard. This is a temperature range between 41 and 135 degrees Fahrenheit in which harmful bacteria that cause foodborne diseases thrive and grow rapidly.

Food that has been contaminated by bacteria or other disease-causing microbes may not show any evidence of contamination. The food may smell and taste quite normal, giving unwary diners no idea of the danger they pose. This emphasizes the need to keep food at a safe temperature.

Food handlers can use the recommended procedures to refrigerate, heat, and store food to be extra sure that the food is free from pathogens that might cause foodborne illness.

A food serving temperature chart is an easily available resource for anyone preparing and handling food. It helps make sure safe internal temperatures are maintained and food is rendered safe for consumption.

Why Does the Food Safety Temperature Danger Zone Matter?

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According to data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United States faces a huge burden of foodborne illnesses. Every year, almost 50 million instances of domestically acquired foodborne infections are reported in the U.S. This translates to one out of every six people falling victim to foodborne illnesses each year. That's not all. There are over 130,000 hospitalizations and almost 3,000 deaths related to foodborne illnesses.

Foodborne infections are caused by around 31 recognized pathogens, such as parasites, viruses, and bacteria, apart from numerous unidentified agents. And in the aftermath of the Covid-19 outbreak, food safety has become even more important than before.

Pathogens will double every 20 minutes if food is kept between 41 and 135 degrees Fahrenheit. Furthermore, the temperature range between 70 F and 125 F is particularly dangerous because this is where there is frenetic microbial development. The longer food is exposed to the temperature danger zone, the more likely it is to get contaminated with microorganisms.

Pathogens such as E.coli, Salmonella, C.perfringens, Campylobacter, and Norovirus, will thrive in food items that are not kept at safe temperatures, or cooked/reheated to the right temperature, or chilled sufficiently before being placed in cold storage. Infected individuals may experience fever, abdominal cramps, severe diarrhea, and vomiting. Young children, immunocompromised patients, pregnant women, and elderly individuals are especially vulnerable to food poisoning.

Certain food items are particularly susceptible to microbial attack and therefore need stringent time and temperature control measures. These include milk and dairy products, meat poultry, eggs, fish, vegetables, cooked rice, chopped tomatoes, garlic, untreated oil combinations, plant-based meat alternatives, and so on.

The maximum amount of time that ready-to-eat meals can be kept in the temperature danger zone is four hours, according to ServSafe, the U.S. National Restaurant Association's training and certification program. After then, the food has to be discarded. Within this 4-hour time limit, food can be reheated, eaten, or refrigerated. It is possible for food handlers to take appropriate corrective action if temperatures are checked every two hours.

Cold-holding equipment should retain food at 40 F or lower to assure food safety. Cold foods can be utilized for up to six hours after they have been removed from the refrigerator. Cold foods must be monitored every two hours and discarded if they reach 70 F or higher. Similarly, hot food products that have been resting at temperatures below 135 F for more than four hours are dangerous to eat.

Zip Temperature, a software solution available on the Hubworks app store, continuously tracks the temperature of storage units and equipment used by a restaurant and warns if there's a temperature fluctuation. This allows the restaurant owner to rapidly resolve the problem before it worsens. The free mobile app displays the status of the storage facilities in real time from any place.

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What Other Factors Can Cause Food to Spoil?

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1. Microorganisms- A wide range of microbes can wreak havoc on food. Pathogenic microorganisms cause foodborne illness. These microorganisms thrive at room temperature (60-90 F). However, at freezer or refrigerator temperatures, they don't grow well. Pathogens can proliferate in foodstuffs without causing any visible odor, look, or taste changes. Spoilage microbes, including certain types of bacteria, molds, and yeasts can flourish in temperatures as cold as 40 F. Only when the food starts to rot that it tastes, smells, and looks bad, but by then the damage would have been done.

2. Enzymes- The ripening of vegetables and fruits is controlled by enzymes, which are naturally found in food items. Changes in color, texture, and flavor in food happen due to the action of enzymes. For instance, When a banana transforms from green to yellow and then to brown, what we see is not only a change in color but also in texture. Over time, frozen and unblanched corn-on-the-cob may start tasting like the cob. This is also due to enzyme activity.

3. Air- When air combines with food components, oxidation occurs. It is a chemical process causing unwanted changes in flavor, color, and nutrient content of foodstuffs. Oxidation is what causes lipids in meals to go rancid. Before freezing light-colored fruits, use an antioxidant like citric acid or ascorbic acid to prevent discoloration. Oxidation can be prevented if you keep food safe in vapor-proof packaging, keeping air out.

4. Light- Exposure to light can cause a loss of color and vitamins. It may also result in the oxidation of fats.

Additional Factors That Cause Food to Decay

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5. Pests- Rodents, insects, parasites, and other creatures target food items and half-eaten food is prone to contamination and further deterioration. Also, pests carry germs that can contaminate food, and pest saliva and body parts mixed with food can make food dangerous to eat.

According to a study referred to by the CDC, a single housefly is able to carry on its body over a million bacteria and can transmit pathogens like E.Coli, Salmonella spp, Shigella spp, and Vibrio Cholera. These microbes are commonly disgorged onto the food by flies when they try to liquefy the food for ingestion. Rats, on the other hand, spread diseases like salmonellosis, hantavirus, and listeria through their saliva, droppings, urine, and nesting materials.

6. Physical damage- Raw produce may contain cracks and bruises where microbes can grow and thrive and also from where they can infiltrate the food. Apart from microbes, light, air, and pests can easily penetrate food that has been improperly packed and is placed inside broken containers or dented cans. Food should be handled with care to ensure that its quality and safety is maintained as long as possible.

7. Time- Microorganisms require time to reproduce and flourish. Enzyme activation and oxidation, which also contribute to the putrefaction of food, need time to develop as well. Therefore, the longer a food item stays uneaten, the greater the chances of it decaying.

Buy only as much perishable food products as you need so that you don't have to store them for a long period of time.

Certain food items come with 'best by' dates, which are essentially the date up to which manufacturers expect the food to retain its optimal flavor and quality.

These date labels, however, are not related to food safety. Since these labels, with the exception of those on infant formula, are voluntarily applied, consumers should use their discretion when buying such food.

Danger Zone Temperatures for Different Foods

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A food thermometer should always be used to check the food product's internal temperature. Hot food must be kept at 140 F at the minimum. To serve or keep the food warm, warming trays, chafing dishes, and slow cookers should be used. Some warmers can store food at only 110-120 F. Therefore, it is necessary to make sure that the warmer holds food at 140 F or above. Cold backup meals should be refrigerated, while hot meals should be reheated at 200-250 F in the oven before serving.

Eggs and egg-based dishes may be stored to be used later, but they ought to be properly cooked to 165 F before being served. Cold foods must be kept at 40 F or a lower temperature. Cold foods should be kept refrigerated until they are ready to eat.

If the meal has to be left unused for over two hours, platters holding cold food need to be placed on ice to keep the food cool. Perishable food products sitting at room temperature for more than two hours should be discarded. If food is being handled and served at a place that sees temperatures above 90 F, the period for safe holding of food will reduce to one hour. You should refrigerate leftovers as quickly as possible, but within two hours.

Here's a look at the recommended storage temperatures and safe internal temperatures of different kinds of foodstuff. Any variance in these food safety temperatures will shift food items to within the temperature danger zone.

Recommended Storage TemperaturesSafe Minimum Internal Temperatures
Poultry products40 F or less, or frozen at 0 F or less165 F
Leftovers (casseroles, stuffing, etc.)40 F or less, or frozen at 0 F or less
165 F
Egg-based dishes40 F or less, or frozen at 0 F or less160 F
Ground meat40 F or less, or frozen at 0 F or less160 F
Beef, lamb, pork, veal, chops, and steaks40 F or less, or frozen at 0 F or less145 F. Resting time to be allowed is at least 3 minutes
Uncooked ham (smoked or fresh)40 F or less, or frozen at 0 F or less145 F. Resting time to be allowed is at least 3 minutes
Fish and shellfish40 F or less, or frozen at 0 F or less145 F
Recommended Storage
Safe Minimum Internal
Dairy items 40 F or less, or frozen at 0 F or lessNA
Fresh vegetables
and fruits
40 F or less, or frozen at 0 F or lessNA

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Different Ways Food Can be Kept Safe in a Commercial Kitchen?

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Kitchen planning should align with all the criteria for food storage safety. Avoid storing food products at room temperature. Maintaining the freshness of your ingredients and the quality of your dishes while maintaining the optimum temperature standards demands sufficiently insulated cold rooms with advanced sensors.

Keep food items separated from one another. Don't forget fundamental food safety hygiene standards like storing cooked meat away from raw food. Too many foodservice businesses are caught off-guard, and cross-contamination results in serious food poisoning. The same idea holds true when it comes to food preparation.

Wrap the perishable foods, including frozen foods, in plastic wrappers or store them in a plastic bag. Food should not be stored for long periods of time, and ready-to-eat food should be frozen or used within two days. To ensure optimal food safety, keep all storage places cold and dry. All food, including dairy products, should be stored in the refrigerator. Even non-fridge items need to be stored in a systematic and hygienic manner to ensure maximum food safety.

Food should always be marinated in the refrigerator, as bacteria can quickly multiply at room temperature. Also, unless you bring the marinating liquid to a quick boil first, never reuse it as a sauce. Clean out the fridge on a regular basis, if not every day. This inhibits the Listeria bacteria from growing and stops the thawing of meat by drips that can cause bacteria from one food item to spread to another, resulting in food poisoning.

Paper towels used for cleaning should be thrown away and not reused. Refrigerated food products should be stored in covered vessels or sealed bags. Leftovers should be checked daily for deterioration or damage. Eggs should be stored in their cartons in the main refrigerator rather than on the refrigerator door because the temperature in the refrigerator door is significantly warmer and the eggs may get spoiled.

3 Top Food Thermometers for Commercial Kitchens

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1. Blue2- By wirelessly communicating temperatures to a smart device that is Bluetooth-enabled, the Cooper-Atkins Blue2 temperature monitor eliminates the need for handwritten temperature monitoring.

The Blue2 instrument can use any Type-K thermocouple temperature probe, making it useful for insertion, and taking surface and air temperature measurements. The information can be incorporated into third-party applications.

The Blue2 instrument was created to improve business practices including compliance with Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) food safety standards, and the automation of checklists. This Bluetooth food temperature monitor can be connected to the Zip HACCP app in a hassle-free manner to make sure that food is not undercooked or overcooked and that infections are not present. The Zip HACCP software is available on the Hubworks platform.

The Blue2 temperature monitor has a radio frequency range of 100 feet in line of sight, an accuracy of 0.5 F at an ambient temperature ranging from 68 F to 86 F, and can handle temperatures ranging from -40 to 999 F. The Blue2 is one of the Best Bluetooth temperature monitors available.

2. ThermoPro TP- These Bluetooth meat thermometers are equipped with stainless steel probes and can monitor the internal temperatures of multiple cuts of meat at the same time. The ThermoPro TP920 and ThermoPro TP25 are 500 feet extended-range thermometers powered by Bluetooth 5.0 technology.

They help in accurately estimating the time remaining for the food to reach the target temperature. Temp pre alarms can be set to receive notifications when the meat temperature is 5/10/15 F away from the target temperature.

The temperature range of 15.8 to 572 F and temperature accuracy of 1.8 F ensure that any kind of meat is perfectly cooked.

The ThermoPro app records temperature in real-time and tracks temperatures in the form of graphs, and also shows the estimated time left for the cooking to complete. These metrics can be viewed on a smartphone.

ThermoPro thermometers offer preset temperatures approved by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for nine types of meat and support various levels of doneness.

3. Meater Plus- It offers a simple app that allows you to cook semi-automatically. It also stores data from previous cookouts so that cooking skills can be improved. This thermometer comes with one probe.

However, it has a wide temperature range and can measure ambient temperature up to 527 F and internal temperature up to 212 F. The wireless remote range for Bluetooth thermometers is 165 feet. It contains presets for various kinds of meat, as well as alarms that notify the user when the meal is ready to be removed from the grill.

Bluetooth is the simplest way to connect the Meater probe to a smart device. The Meater Link lets data be transmitted through Wi-Fi and has a larger range than Bluetooth.

Food Safety FAQs

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1. How can frozen food items be thawed in the most efficient way?

The safest approach to thawing frozen food is to place it in the refrigerator. It will be kept there at or below 41 F, which will prevent bacteria from growing. Thawing frozen food in cold water or in a microwave oven are two more safe options. However, if food has been thawed in cold water or a microwave oven, it should be cooked immediately. Food should not be allowed to thaw at room temperature. Even when the core of the food is hard, the exterior part of the food product can easily enter the temperature danger zone.

2. Is antibacterial soap better than regular soap? Should food handlers substitute hand sanitizers for soap?

Antibacterial soaps should not be used in lieu of regular soap. In fact, some experts believe that antibacterial soaps may increase the antimicrobial resistance problem. It is more important for food handlers to properly wash their hands than to apply a specific kind of soap. Hand sanitizers can help in keeping bacteria off the hands. These products, on the other hand, have not been shown to be effective against viral or protozoan diseases and should not be used in place of soap.

3. Can a meal be reheated more than once?

Food should be reheated only once, according to the Food Standards Agency. However, if done appropriately, it can be safely reheated multiple times.

4. What is the minimum Food Safety temperature that should be maintained in a salad bar or a refrigerator?

Salad bar and refrigerator temperature should be kept under 40 F to inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria. If sensitive foods like egg products, yogurt, cheese, meats, or salad dressings are being stored, maintaining the right temperature is very important.

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