Food – Safety Tips For Cooking With A Slow Cooker

Irish stew in a slow cooker pot

There’s a chill in the air and the leaves are starting to turn, and while the daylight hours are noticeably fewer; the Fall Season is simply my favorite time of year! That also means that Slow Cooker Season is among us, so yesterday, I pulled out my slow-cooker in preparation for some hearty and healthy comfort foods I generally like to make using the slow-cooker. Slow cookers are a wonderful convenience but anytime your dealing with low temperatures over long periods of time, there is potential for Food-Safety Hazards.

I am fortunate in that my business requires me to be personally licensed and trained for Safe Food Handling Practices. Thankfully none of us need a license to cook at home however, it is important to make sure you are using your slow-cooker properly. These simple slow-cooker safety guidelines will help keep you and your family safe!

Slow -Cooker Safety Guidelines and Tips:

1. Choose The Right Recipes And Arrange Them Carefully Choose dishes with high moisture content such as Soups, Stews, Chili, and Pasta Sauces. The moisture generates steam which facilitates cooking and helps raise the temperature above the danger zone quickly. Vegetables cook slower than meat, so put them in the cooker first in the bottom, then add meat or poultry then cover with water, stock or broth.

2. Do Not Use Frozen Ingredients – Never Put Frozen Foods Into the Slow Cooker! Defrost all meat, especially poultry thoroughly in the refrigerator before slow cooking. The temperature must reach 140 degrees in 4 hours or less. Frozen meats take well over 2 hours to thaw and start cooking in a slow-cooker therefore, Temperatures between 40 degrees and 140 degrees fall into the so-called “Danger Zone” as bacteria thrive in these temperatures.

3. Cut Up Meat And Poultry Cut meat into chunks or equal size pieces to ensure thorough cooking. Tip: Although the USDA claims it is perfectly safe to place completely thawed and un-cooked meat into the slow-cooker, I pre-cook all of my meats prior to placing them into the slow-cooker. Have you ever noticed the liquid, sometimes blood or even fat and tissue that drains off from the meat after it has been defrosted? Poultry tends to have a stickiness to the touch after it has been thawed.

Gross Chicken

I personally do not want that in my food!

Pre-cooking the meat such as browning or searing before slow-cooking also adds greater depth of flavor! Avoid cooking whole chicken or a large roast in a slow-cooker. The slow cooker cannot heat the large cut of meat quickly enough to avoid a Food-Safety Risk!

4. Avoid Overfilling – Do Not Overfill your slow cooker! Fill it no less than half full and no more than two-thirds full!

5. Pay Attention To Temperature – If you are choosing to cook meat and poultry the USDA suggests that you start the slow-cooker on high for the first hour, then switch to low for the remainder of the cooking time. You can also bring liquids to a simmer before adding them to the slow-cooker on low, thereby jump-starting the creation of heat. The proper Food Temperature must reach and “Hold” (Remain) at 165 degrees or above! Use A Thermometer!

6. Don’t Lift The Lid – Avoid lifting the lid, as the slow-cooker will lose heat each time and will also affect the cooking time. It is best to do it towards the end of cooking to check for doneness.

7. Do Not Reheat Food In Your Slow Cooker – Reheating food in the slow-cooker takes too long to reach a safe temperature. Use the stovetop for reheating! However, you can use a slow-cooker to keep food hot up to 2 hours before serving. Leftovers should be stored in covered containers and refrigerated within 2 hours.

8. Adjust Cooking Times For High Altitude – For high Altitude Cooking, add an additional 30 minutes for each hour of time specified in the recipe.

9. Adding Dairy Products – Recipes that call for dairy products such as sour cream, milk, yogurt and cheese tend to break down in the slow-cooker. To prevent this, I add them during the last 15 minutes of cooking!

Most of these tips and guidelines I have shared with you today came right from my slow-cooker manual that usually comes with your purchase. There are many great models and styles of slow-cookers and crock-pots available today. Manufacturers have made significant improvements to the newer models and they have the capability of reaching the proper temperature very quickly. If you still own one of the older style slow-cookers from about 10 years ago such as the one pictured here,

Old Style Crock

I suggest replacing it with a newer model.  I have a Hamilton Beach Slow-Cooker as pictured below.

Hamilton Beach

I also have the Crock Pot The Original Slow Cooker Trio Cook & Serve, pictured here.

Crock Pot Trio

I use this one for entertaining! I love both of them and they are extremely efficient. Over the next few weeks I will be sharing some of my favorite comfort foods and recipes I like to prepare using my slow-cooker!

Information has been compiled from the following resources:

USDA – United States Department of Agriculture
EatingWell Food Safety Guidelines
Personal License and Training for Safe Food Handling Practices

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